Alcaraz’s Escape

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Photo by Getty

Bill Simons

Paris

Carlos Alcaraz swept onto the stage at Arthur Ashe stadium, reaching the US Open quarters. He became the youngest man to ever win an ATP 250 tourney. He almost took down Rafa Nadal in a windstorm in the desert, he won in Miami and Barcelona, and took down the king of clay and Novak Djokovic, with the king of Spain watching, to win the Madrid Open. He topples top ten players as if they were bowling pins. Many considered the 19-year-old the most consistent player of the year and the favorite to win the French Open. 

After winning his first match on Court Philippe Chatrier, he was assigned to the garden court, Court Simonne-Mathieu. Most thought this outing would be a garden party. His foe was a thirty-something Spanish lefty not named Rafa. 

Albert Ramos-Vinolas is a fine player. Once No. 17, he’s now No. 34. He’s made more than $8 million, but he’s won just one match in the last three French Opens and has an unimpressive record of 1-12 versus top 10 players in Slams. 

Spain’s hottest new prospect is No. 6. But veteran players don’t like to lose to younger players and love to put players from their own country in their place. Plus, anyone who is said to be the greatest ATP phenom in 15 years has a target on his back. 

But so what? Carlos showed his stuff in the first set, winning 6-1. “Good,” said his backers, “You have to conserve your energy early in Slams.” But that was not to happen. Ramos-Vinalas roared back. 

Alcaraz’s forehand was tentative and his foe used his experience to turn the match around, gaining a match point deep in the fourth set.

Can one shot change an entire match? Maybe not. But on match point Ramos-Vinolas netted a makeable forehand. The door was open. Alcaraz charged through, displaying his mind-boggling skill sets to a howling crowd. Forceful and fearless, the only man to beat Nadal and Djokovic back to back on clay was brimming with confidence. Kid Carlos showed us his lightning speed, his power, his uncanny court sense and superb decision-making. There were drop shots and fake drop shots, plus in-your-face overheads and a wicked down-the-line backhand from far off the court at crunch time in the fifth. Radio Roland Garros was aghast. “How did he get to that?…He is the miracle man…He explodes with aggression – he’s a force of nature…The kid’s unreal. It’s not just his power, it’s the vision and the creativity…He has so much charisma just by using his racket. He doesn’t have to jump up and down like Rafa did.”  

Alcaraz did fall behind 3-0 in the fifth set. But he then won six of the next seven games and blasted three aces in the final game to win the match, 6-1, 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

Eleanor Preston commented, “I think he is going to be quite good.”

He already is.

Alcaraz said the key to his success was “belief in myself, work hard every day and have good dreams…It’s great that people are saying I am going to be No. 1. It’s big pressure on me…It’s my dream to be No. 1….I want to play big battles against the best players in the world.”  

GO FIGURE: ATP Counsel member Bruno Soares said there was a chance that the ATP could change its position on stripping Wimbledon of ranking points…US Open champion Emma Raducanu and No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari crashed out. Alexander Zverev almost did too. But he fought back from a 6-2, 4-0 deficit against the talented Argentinian Sebastian Baez.   

AMERICA WATCH: Californian No. 13 Taylor Fritz, who’s coming off a serious injury, fell to Spain’s Bernabe Zapata Miralles in four sets. Zapata Miralles next plays No. 23 John Isner in the third round. Isner beat France’s Gregoire Barrère in four sets. San Diego’s Brandon Nakashima toppled Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-2. He next plays No. 3 Alexander Zverev. No. 27 Seb Korda took out Frenchman Richard Gasquet in three sets. No. 18 Coco Gauff got past Alison Van Uytvanck, 6-1, 7-6 (4). Sloane Stephens upset No. 26 Sorana Cirstea, including a dominating 6-0 blanking in the third set. No. 27 Amanda Anisimova ousted Donna Vekic, dropping just five games. 

COACHING CAROUSEL: Just a year ago, when Novak Djokovic became the first man to have beaten Rafa at the French Open, Marian Vajda was coaching him. But late last year the two ended their long-time relationship. And today Vajda was guiding Alex Molcan, who fell to Novak in the second round. Vajda is hardly the first coach to change camps. Goodness, American tennis legend Bill Tilden was roundly criticized for becoming Germany’s Davis Cup coach at the time of the Nazis’ rise. Toni Nadal, who led his nephew Rafa to stardom, has been coaching Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Serena’s longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou is now with Simona Halep.

Also reporting – Steve Pratt

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