Sat. May 21st, 2022

For every new day in the tennis world, the emergence of Carlos Alcaraz becomes even more inevitable. He is the youngest player in the top 100, the youngest to win 30 matches in a season since Rafael Nadal many months ago, and during last year’s breakout season he became the youngest US Open quarterfinalist in the Open era, taking won a title and earned his first grand slam seeding for good measure.

But on Friday night, after four long and exhausting hours of play, Matteo Berrettini, the seventh frog, played the role of an experienced veteran as he drew on every inch of his growing wealth of experience to expose the Spaniard to at least one more tournament. .

Berrettini led by two sets, only to see his lead crumble to an 18-year-old playing without fear or favor, but he eventually recovered to win 6-2, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 2- 6, 7-6 (5).

“I told myself the guy who wanted to win the fight was the one who wanted it more. So I guess I wanted more,” Berrettini said. “But this is just a sentence I said to myself that I should feel ready and I think it’s ultimately about fighting and trying and doing the right things. I fought really hard. That’s what I think made the difference. ”

Alcaraz, seeded as No. 31, has already established itself as one of the smartest young players in the game, and boasts athletics, dynamic weapons and relentless competitiveness. The homework for him in the low season was to improve his serve, one of the obvious weaknesses of his game, and to continue working on his physical qualities. He has actually started the season by placing his serve far better, and the sleeveless jersey he chose to wear in Australia happens to show the clear physical gains he has achieved.

It was the youngster who rose early, took control of points with his forehand and strangled Berrettini in his early service fights. He generated five breakpoints early in the opening set, but Berrettini matched them with excellent serving. Alcaraz’s commitment to dominate with his forehand quickly became his weakness as he overpressed and sprayed errors as Berrettini, beaten finalist at Wimbledon last year, moved towards a two-set lead.

“I felt confident. In the third, there were a couple of matches where I was 0-30 and I felt the momentum was on my side, and then tennis,” he said, clicking his fingers. . “

Alcaraz worked their way back into the fight, demonstrating their improved serve and finding their feet through increasingly even teams. Then he began to overwhelm Berrettini by holding the Italian in his backhand corner and handing out forehand winners. He finished with 23 from that side in total, 12 more than the Italian.

A brilliant closing set filled with efficient serving and a sublime team from Alcaraz that saved a match point of 5-6 followed. They met in a super-tie-break – first to 10 and ready with two points – where Berrettini’s calm, experience and superb serving finally made a difference. When he blasted forward and never looked back, Alcaraz failed twice on match points.

Matteo Berrettini celebrates winning his third round match against Carlos Alcaraz.
Matteo Berrettini celebrates after witnessing the challenge from Carlos Alcaraz at the Australian Open. Photo: Morgan Sette / Reuters

“I am very proud of the achievement today,” Alcaraz said. “I mean, it was my first time two sets down, and then I could come back like I did. I gave everything on the court, so that’s what I want to do, give everything on the court, and I’m very proud. as I did. “

Berrettini, meanwhile, had only many positive words for his young opponent: “He’s incredible,” he said. “I think at his age I did not even have an ATP point. He’s impressive, he can only improve playing matches like this. He showed everyone his potential. Fortunately, I won today, but congratulations to him. “

The veteran on Friday, as a 25-year-old, Berrettini himself is young and part of a generation that has still just sat on top of the sport. His own path remains unique. When people like Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev accelerated towards the top of the game from their youth, Berrettini took his time and caught up slowly.

While his limitations are more conspicuous than some, his backhand in particular, he makes up for it with his steadfast commitment to nurturing his strengths; serve, forehand, backhand slice. He remains a challenger in Melbourne.

When the youngest player in the men’s draw lost narrowly, the second oldest, also a Spaniard, kept himself inside the match. Rafael Nadal faced his first top-50 opponent since his six-month injury hiatus, and he passed another test in his comeback, defeating Karen Khachanov, the 28th seeded, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to now fourth round. “It’s a very special week for me,” Nadal said. “Tonight I played against a great player. It has without a doubt been my best match since I came back.”

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