Alexander Zverev patted Carlos Alcaraz on the chest to congratulate him, waved briefly to the audience and quickly disappeared into the catacombs. With a clear defeat against the world number one, the Olympic champion missed his third semi-final appearance at the US Open in a row – and then revealed an injury.

In the second sentence he suffered a thigh injury, reported the 26-year-old from Hamburg. “I have a bump there. Usually when you have a bump, it indicates that you have a tear,” said Zverev. After 2:30 hours he was beaten by the 20-year-old defending champion from Spain 3:6, 2:6, 4:6. Two days after the epic victory against the Italian Jannik Sinner in more than four and a half hours, Zverev’s exertions were still clearly noticeable.

After the second set he was treated in the dressing room. Because of the injury, the 26-year-old reported that he was no longer able to push himself properly on serve. But giving up wasn’t an option. An investigation at home should provide information about the extent of the injury. Even before the defeat in the semifinals of the French Open in mid-June, he had suffered a slight strain in his thigh. “My body is letting me down a bit at the moment, so I have to see what’s going on,” said Zverev.

Zverev’s expectations remain unfulfilled

The former world number two has to wait for his first triumph in a Grand Slam triumph. Alcaraz certainly didn’t play at his highest level, but he will now meet Russian Daniil Medvedev in the round of the top four on Friday.

“I’m so happy to be back here, I missed that during my injury,” said Zverev shortly before entering the world’s largest tennis stadium. He recalled his severe ankle injury from the previous year, after which he had to pause for more than half a year. “I will do everything I can. Hopefully it will be a fun match.” However, the expectations were not fulfilled. It was clear to see that Zverev had been on the pitch almost six hours longer than Alcaraz with more than 14 hours in four games at this US Open.

After the round of 16 against Sinner, Zverev did not train on Tuesday. “Let’s see how Sascha has recovered,” said Russia’s Daniil Medvedev shortly before his semi-final opponent was determined. “He wasn’t in good shape two days ago.”

Difficult external conditions

The conditions were again difficult at 28 degrees after 9 p.m. – but no comparison to the much muggy air in the round of 16. At the beginning, Zverev showed no signs of fatigue and withstood the powerful game of his opponent, who was six years younger, in the first few minutes. Zverev hit at up to 220 kilometers per hour, Alcaraz also responded at high speed. The Spaniard tried to dominate the game early with his hard attacking shots. However, he initially made a few unnecessary mistakes. When changing sides, Alcaraz had an unusually long debate with the referee.

A decisive phase of the game came within a good ten minutes: First, Zverev dropped his first of two breakballs with a slight backhand error when the score was 3: 3. In the very next game, Alcaraz took the serve from the German instead. Four points later, the two-time Grand Slam title winner took the opening set after a total of 48 minutes.

Barely electrifying atmosphere

The leadership of the favorite took the tension from the audience. Unlike Zverev’s duel with Sinner, there was rarely an electrifying atmosphere with a good 23,000 spectators in the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

In the third game of the second round, Alcaraz managed to break again and celebrated with a jubilant jump. The Spaniard now seemed much more relaxed, tried to catch a ball in his pocket after a point as a show. When Alcaraz took his serve from him again, Zverev trotted to his bench with his head bowed.

After losing the second set, the German number one hung a towel with ice around his neck, called in a physio, took a medical break and disappeared into the dressing room. Alcaraz waited shirtless on the square. The Spaniard lacked excitement, but Zverev missed three more break chances. When the score was 4: 4, Alcaraz turned up the heat again, took the serve from Zverev and cheered a little later.