‘Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!’ – The Boy Genius Who Wouldn’t Be Denied

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons and Vinay Venkatesh

Paris

The boy wonder from Spain has told us about the joy of suffering. But millions around the world delight in the kid who dazzles us. His smile lights up arenas.

He doesn’t have the grace of Roger, the muscular ferocity of Rafa, or the inspired craftsmanship of Novak. Then again, no one has the spectacular, intuitive and simply jaw-dropping shotmaking virtuosity of this 21-year-old whiz who doesn’t know how not to astonish us.

The man goes by many names. Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, Carlos Alcaraz, Carlitos, Carlos, Charlie, the Chuckster, or just “the natural.” But he has just one mantra. His tattoo tells it all: “Cabeza, corazón, cojones” – head, heart and balls.

Still, for all his mastery, the man who’s won the US Open, Wimbledon and Indian Wells (twice) and was No. 1 for 36 weeks had not achieved his dream.

As a boy he’d dash home from school to see Nadal power his way to titles. He told us, “When I finished school, I was running to my home to put the TV on, to watch the matches here.” Today he dearly hoped to join the honor roll of his nation’s French Open masters. He confided, “I wanted to put my name on that list of the Spanish players who won this tournament. Not only Rafa. [Juan Carlos] Ferrero, [Carlos] Moya, [Albert] Costa…legends from our sport.”

While Zverev had a nervous start, hitting two double faults out of the gate, Alcaraz settled down and got into rhythm. Playing with aggression, defending beautifully, he blasted six ferocious forehand winners and subtle crosscourt squash shots, ran like a deer, and offered his usual surgical drop shots, which Gigi Salmon said were “as delightful as they were delicious.” Andy Roddick added, “Carlos hits a looper, a drop shot. Then he takes your head off.”

Alcaraz dominated on his highly effective serve and prevailed in cat-and-mouse scrambles. His down-the-line backhand punished. He raised his fist. Zverev seemed tentative. He couldn’t get easy points. Neither his serve or forehand could impose, and Carlos broke three times to win the first set 6-3.

Frustrated, Sasha’s shoulders dropped. He looked to his dad and his brother in his box: “This is not going according to plan.” His errors mounted. His forehand wandered.

Often we’ve sensed that Zverev has been fighting the universe. Does he have a chip on his shoulder? We do know that the considerable veteran, who’s in the prime of his career, thrives on adversity. Here, Sascha had come from behind against Ruud and Rune, and the spunky Dutchman, Tallon Griekspoor.

Soon, amidst small tornados of clay, Alcaraz shanked a forehand, and Zverev to go ahead in the second set. Sascha hit an inspired backhand crosscourt drop shot off a spectacular backhand drop shot from Alcaraz – such brilliance.

Never mind that going into the German had been on the court for over 19 hours. Now he was in full flight. He exuded confidence. His forehands were rockets.The final “is bubbling up very nicely,” observed Marcus Buckland.

No kidding. The momentum switched. Sascha was now cruising down the Autobahn. Suddenly Alcaraz’s level dipped. Had the young wizard lost his magic? Did his wand need new batteries? Sascha was serving lights out. He painted the lines. His backhand was a laser beam. In a flash, Zverev grabbed the second and the third sets to gain a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 advantage.

But Alcaraz’s creed is, “The Spanish never die.” As he mounted a counterattack in the fourth set, broadcaster Antoine Benneteau commented, “Carlos is like a shark. He smells the moment. He knows when to attack and counterattack.” Sascha’s movement dropped. He seemed worried. He barked at his dad: Papa, what’s wrong?

A stunning Spanish forehand pass thrilled fans. Carlos raced to an inexplicable 6-1 fourth-set win. But one fan said, “I don’t trust Alcaraz.” His friend replied, “I don’t trust either of them.” The match was up in the French air. A whiplash affair that had zigged and zagged would now be the first five-set French Open final since 2021.

At times, both competitors were nervous, tentative and playing not to lose. Going into the final set, pundits noted that Alcaraz had better numbers in the clutch. Not only had he won two Slams, he was 14-4 in finals and 9-1 in fifth sets. Yet once again he was cramping at crunch time.

But if any tennis star has demons in the deep recesses of his mind, it’s the German, who surely hasn’t been able to erase his definitive moment of loss at the 2020 US Open. There are scars.

As if on script, Sascha muffed two volleys and double faulted to lose the first game of the fifth. All the while, Carlos’s variety, improvisation and courage were breathtaking.

While Zverev complained bitterly over a botched overrule that would have given him a crucial break back,

Alcaraz managed to save four break points. Yet another Spanish drop shot gave Alcaraz a 3-1 lead. “Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!” chanted the enthralled throng.

Zverev looked to his box for answers – but none came. He again failed to convert break points. Carlos hit a crosscourt backhand for the ages and an unafraid forehand winner on the line to break again, going up 5-2 – just one game from ecstasy. The shadows were long, the temperatures were cool, the drama was hot. Then the magician from Murcia stroked a final crosscourt blast to score a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 sporting triumph that will forever be remembered.

Yes, Sascha had taken down the King of Clay, Senor Nadal, in the first round. But today, four years after he lost in New York, two years after he wrecked his ankle on this court and two days after his controversial court case was settled, Zverev again tasted sorrow. Converting only six of 23 breakpoints was his downfall, as he suffered yet another devastating fifth-set loss in a major final.

For 4:19 of sometimes baffling tennis, Alcaraz used his head, heart and cojones to prevail as he became the youngest man to win Slams on all three surfaces and the seventh Spanish man to win this historic competition.

After all, this singular day belonged to a bounding and a beloved young star who would not be denied. Joy surged throughout Stade Philippe-Chatrier and the tennis universe. A dazzling star prevailed. And athletic genius once again inspired.

COCO-CZECH COMBO WINS: Coco Gauff has won two titles in the last three slams. The US Open singles champion won her first major doubles championship with the Czech Katerina Siniakova who won her third French Open and an eight slam title. The American-Czech team downed Italians Jasmine Paolini and Sara Errani. Paolini lost both the French singles and doubles titles. Three years ago, Barbora Krejcikova won both.

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