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Rafael Nadal Into 14th Roland Garros Final as Alexander Zverev Retires with Severe Ankle Injury

Germany’s Alexander Zverev (C) is assisted as he lies on court after injuring his ankle vs. Rafael Nadal (L) on day thirteen of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrier in Paris. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev elevated Paris into first-set ecstasy.

A horrific ankle injury abruptly ended a riveting Roland Garros semifinal with Zverev in agony.

Beneath the closed roof of Court Philippe Chatrier, Nadal advanced to his 14th Roland Garros final after Zverev crashed to the court suffering a gruesome right ankle injury that forced him to retire with the Spaniard leading 7-6(8), 6-6.

Three hours, three minutes into a dizzying and dramatic match, Zverev was racing right chasing a running forehand when he rolled his right ankle bending it at a grotesque ankle, crashed to the red clay and lay in the dirt wailing in piercing cries and writhing in agony.

The trainer immediately came out onto court to attend to the fallen German—Nadal came across the net to try to help too—before Zverev was helped to his feet and carted off the court in a wheelchair.

Minutes later, Zverev showed pure class amid suffering hobbling back on the court in crutches to shake Nadal’s hand and the chair umpire’s hand as French fans saluted the pained German with a standing ovation. Zverev raised his crutches in appreciation of the fans’ support.

“Very tough and very sad for him,” Nadal told Hall of Famer Mats Wilander in his on-court interview. “Honestly, he was playing unbelievable tournament. He’s a very good colleague on the tour. I know how much he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam, but for the moment he was very unlucky.

“The only thing I am sure he gonna win not one, but much more than one. So I wish him all the very best and very fast recovery.”

It’s certainly not the way Nadal wanted to advance—or the way he wanted to commemorate his 36th birthday today—but the 13-time champion will play for a record-extending 14th Roland Garros crown on Sunday.

The Australian Open champion will face either 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic or eighth-seeded Norwegian Casper Ruud, who frequently trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy on Mallorca, in Sunday’s final.

A somber Nadal said afterward his thoughts were with Zverev.

“Have been a super tough match over three hours and we even didn’t finish the second set,” Nadal said. “It’s one of the biggest challenges on the tour today when he’s playing at this super high level to play against him.

“Difficult to say a lot of things today in this situation. Of course for me being in the final of Roland Garros one more time is a dream, without a doubt, but at the same time to finish that way I have been in the small room with Sasha before we came back on court. See him crying there is a very tough moment, just all the best to him.”

It’s a brutal ending for Zverev, who led 4-2 in the first and second sets and seized a 6-2 tiebreaker lead with four set points only to see Nadal lift his level and deliver some dynamic running forehands passes to hit his way back into the set. Zverev, who nearly doubled Nadal’s winner output (40 to 21), served for the second set at 5-3 but could not close it.

The 36-year-old Spaniard, who spent more than four hours on court in a five-set win over Felix Auger-Aliassime and a four-set triumph over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, will now rest and recover ahead of playing for a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam crown on Sunday.