18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz has so far shown enough promise and precocity to suggest that he could eventually succeed Rafael Nadal as Spain’s top tennis player. On Friday at the US Open, with a spectacular five-set victory over number 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alcaraz showed why he is already garnering so much attention.
With tenacity to match his talent, and boosted by a rowdy stadium crowd Arthur Ashe a little tired of Tsitsipas’ penchant for taking long breaks between sets, Alcaraz won 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 0-6, 7-6 (5) in just over four hours to become the youngest fourth round man at Flushing Meadows since a few guys named Pete Sampras and Michael Chang in 1989.
“I just don’t know what happened on the pitch,” said Alcaraz, 55, after what was only his 10th Grand Slam game. “I can’t believe I beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic match. For me it’s a dream come true.”
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It wasn’t the only significant victory for an 18-year-old against a top player: later in that same arena, 2018 and 2020 champion Naomi Osaka threw and clutched her racquet as she let her lead slip away. in what turned into a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 loss to Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez.
Afterwards, a tear-eyed Osaka said she was considering taking another break from the sport; she withdrew from Roland Garros and took a mental health break after saying she felt anxiety when speaking to the media and suffered from depression for years.
“It’s very difficult to express,” she said on Friday. “Basically I feel like I’m at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and honestly, I don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match.”
Alcaraz and Fernandez both made sure during field talks to thank the fans, who make up for last year’s absence – no spectators were allowed then due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it is now at full capacity – with a lot of noise.
They booed Osaka for turning their backs on the pitch and delaying action in the final game. They chanted “Let’s go, Carlos!” during his victory and rose to standing ovations at various times, including just before the final tie-breaker, with Alcaraz waving his arms to ask for and receive even more support.
“He can be a contender for the Grand Slam titles,” said Tsitsipas, Roland Garros runner-up this year. “He has the game to be there.
In the previous action, three women with multiple major titles each – Garbiñe Muguruza, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber – took straight-set wins to advance to week two.
Muguruza passed three-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 a year ago, and will then face French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. Kerber, who won the title in New York in 2016, defeated 2017 champion Sloane Stephens 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. And Halep won 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-3 over Elena Rybakina.
Alcaraz showed so much skill against Tsitsipas. Big cuts off both wings, so big that’s Tsitsipas’ assessment: “I’ve never seen anyone hit the ball so hard.” And that was corroborated by the statistics, none more remarkable than that showing that Alcaraz finished with 45 forehand and backhand winners, compared to Tsitsipas’ 14.
There was more. So much more. Service with a bit of pop, reaching 134 mph. Returns too heavy to manage. And drops of water. So many drop shots, some of which directly won points, others of which laid the groundwork for a lob or a pass winner just at a right angle. Alcaraz even won a point with the help of a tween back to the net and through the legs.
As impressive as it all may have been, nothing stood out more from the kid than the mental toughness to hold onto the melting pot of a Grand Slam fifth set in the biggest arena in tennis against a top player. Especially after being shut out in fourth.
“He handled it very well,” Tsitsipas said.
And he wanted to say everything: the stage, the setting, the stakes. Alcaraz also had fun along the way, interacting with ticket holders, pumping his fists, shouting “Vamos!” and, after some of his best shots, nodding confidently in the direction of his coach, 2003 Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.
When it ended with Alcaraz hitting a forehand backwards, he threw down his racquet, fell onto his back and covered his face with both hands.
“I had to be aggressive until the last point,” he said later. “I think I did.”
He lay there for a few moments, his chest heaving. After getting up to go to the net, Alcaraz received a pat on the shoulder from Tsitsipas. Alcaraz then again put his palms over his eyes and closed his eyes.
It’s the kind of triumph that others have seen coming for him, and the milestones keep coming.
He was already the youngest man to play two third round rounds in a major tournament since Novak Djokovic in 2005. And the youngest to win at least one game at every Slam in a year since 1989, when it was done by Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon Champion who is now one of Djokovic’s coaches.
Now add this: Alcaraz is the youngest man to beat one of the top three players in a Grand Slam tournament since the ATP computerized ranking began in 1973.
“It was supposed to be my game. Today was a game I shouldn’t have lost,” said Tsitsipas, who had been the subject of criticism from Andy Murray and others for taking what they thought was too long to navigate. off the court for several minutes for an authorized toilet break.
This time Tsitsipas left after the third set, but just for a few minutes (Alcaraz also left and came back 30 seconds earlier). After the fourth, Alcaraz was treated on the sidelines by a trainer who massaged his legs and lower back.
At the end of the fifth set, with the result in the balance, Alcaraz was better.
“You feel like you’re in control and it doesn’t really work out for you at the end,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s a little bitter, I would say.”