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Fans' tears flow as Nadal bows out of 'last' French Open

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Fans' tears flow as Nadal bows out of 'last' French Open
Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures as he leaves the court after losing against Germany's Alexander Zverev in their men's singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day two of The French Open tennis tournament at The Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

From Australia, China and the US, Rafael Nadal fans descended on a chilly and damp Roland Garros on Monday, hoping to inspire their "superhero" to victory at what was most likely his last French Open.

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In the end, however, many were reduced to tears as the 14-time champion slumped to a straight-sets defeat to Alexander Zverev in the first round, likely signalling the end of the 38-year-old's Grand Slam adventure in Paris.

"Personally, I'm very sad, he's Rafa, a legend," Mateo Castro, a 41-year-old French fan, told AFP with tears in his eyes. "It's hard to see him go."

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Michael Lundell, another Nadal fan who had travelled from Genoa to Paris to watch the match, was also in tears.

"I was crying, because I don't think there has ever been another role model like him before in sports," said the 43-year-old.

"It was a great match, I saw Rafael Nadal with an exceptional level again," said Gregory Dubus, a 50-year-old French fan.

"I've been following Nadal since 2005, his first victory here at Roland Garros, and to see him here, maybe in his last match was exciting."

Like many fans at Roland Garros on Monday, there was a feeling that they were witnessing the end of an era.

"A player like Rafa, you never want him to retire, he's a humble player, with an exceptional attitude on the court and in life, nobody wants him to stop," added Dubus.

Before the start of the match, fans had hailed a player dubbed a "superhero".

"You always have to keep the faith in Rafa, he will win," Hazel, a 28-year-old fan who had flown in from China for a second straight year after being left disappointed when Nadal withdrew in 2023, told AFP.

"The most important thing is that he stays healthy," she said, as she proudly showed the banners she had made with the colours of Spain, Nadal's face and the message "Welcome back my super hero".

Before Wednesday, Nadal had only lost three times in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning debut as a 19-year-old in 2005.

He said at the weekend that there was a chance this may be his last French Open but insisted he was still keeping the door "100 percent open" on continuing his career.

"You see a lot of 'Thank you Rafa' shirts. He's a monument at this tournament," said 41-year-old Manolo who has come to Europe from the United States to watch Nadal and then Real Madrid play in the Champions League final in London this Saturday.

He has seen Nadal win at Wimbledon and the US Open as well as Paris but admitted Monday's clash with world number four Zverev "would be very difficult".

"I hope he beats Zverev... Rafa is Rafa," he said.

"It's possibly the last time he plays here, so we're very happy to watch him," said Alsi, a 40-year-old fan living in Australia.

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