MARATHON. Carlos Alcaraz defeated Jannik Sinner in five sets to make his first French Open final. / AP

Alcaraz faces Zverev in battle of first-time French Open finalists

PARIS (AP) — Carlos Alcaraz started poorly and fell behind early in his French Open semifinal against Jannik Sinner. Later, as both dealt with cramps under Friday’s afternoon sun, Alcaraz trailed by two sets to one.

By the end of the latest installment in this burgeoning rivalry between two young, talented players, an engaging five-setter that lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes, Alcaraz actually had accumulated fewer total points, 147-145.

That, of course, is not the score that matters. And Alcaraz, who says he takes pleasure from challenges, ultimately persevered, pulling out a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Sinner to get to his first final in Paris. It made the 21-year-old from Spain the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam title match on three surfaces.

“You have to find the joy (while) suffering. That’s the key — even more on clay, here at Roland Garros. Long rallies. Four-hour matches. Five sets,” Alcaraz said. “You have to fight. You have to suffer. But as I told my team many, many times, you have to enjoy suffering.”

He won championships at the U.S. Open in 2022 on hard courts and at Wimbledon in 2023 on grass.

Now the No. 3-seeded Alcaraz will face No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany on the red clay Sunday. Hours before his 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 semifinal victory over No. 7 Casper Ruud of Norway, Zverev’s domestic abuse case in Berlin ended, because he reached an out-of-court settlement with his accuser, a former girlfriend.

“I’m happy that it’s over,” Zverev said about the court proceeding at his post-match news conference. “Yeah, nothing else more to say.”

When a reporter tried to follow up on the topic, Zverev said: “We move on. I never, ever want to hear another question about the subject again. That goes out to everybody.”

Ruud started well, but then began to fade, and he was handed some pills by a doctor during a third-set changeover. Ruud, who said afterward he had a stomach problem, looked listless and stopped chasing some shots, a shell of the player who leads the tour in match wins this season and has been the runner-up at majors three times — including in 2022 and 2023 in Paris.

Zverev finally broke through at Roland Garros after bowing out in the semifinals each of the past three years. This will be his second Grand Slam final: He blew a two-set lead and lost in five against Dominic Thiem at the U.S. Open in 2020.

“I was not mature enough. I was maybe too much of a kid still,” said Zverev, who is now 27. “I didn’t know what the occasion means.”

This will be the first French Open men’s final without Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer since 2004.

Djokovic was the defending champion in Paris, but he withdrew before the quarterfinals after tearing the meniscus in his right knee and had surgery this week. Because he failed to get back to the final, he will drop from atop the ATP rankings, allowing Sinner to rise a spot from No. 2, despite his defeat on Friday.

“Obviously disappointed how it ended, but it’s part of my growing and the process,” said Sinner, who won the Australian Open in January for his first major trophy. “The winner is happy, and then the loser tries to find a way to beat him the next time.”

The 22-year-old Italian showed up in Paris with a lingering hip injury that forced him to sit out the clay-court tournament in Rome last month. Alcaraz missed that event, too, because of a right forearm issue that he said made him afraid to hit his booming forehands at full force. / AP

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