Carlos Alcaraz needed a change of balls and a dry court to prevail (6-4, 6-1) against number 72 in the ranking, the Catalan Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 35, in his awkward debut at the Rome Open. He happened this Saturday afternoon, in the second round. Under a cloudy sky. After a three hour delay due to rain. Far from the religious fervor that he inspired in the Usera neighborhood of Madrid and in front of half-empty stands. Unpleasant prolegomena for Alcaraz, who set foot on the Foro Italico track for the first time in his career and was anointed number one on the ATP.
Ramos won the toss. He chose to start by subtracting. He broke serve and prevailed in the second game. His left foot searched for Alcaraz’s backhand pertinaciously. He forced her to respond quickly on a track that the moisture had sponged up. The wet earth acted as a buffer. The projectiles that give value to Alcaraz’s tennis lost consistency and rebound. They looked more like coconut sultans than bullets. Without the ammunition that his gun needs, the world number one found himself in difficulties. He pretended to finish quickly and found himself imprecise. His balls went too far from the lines, or went outside, and Ramos, who was never characterized by his agility, seemed fast at the back of the court.
The Spaniards were tied at four games in the first set when the organization changed the balls. The hairy spheres replaced the bare ones and Alcaraz’s topspins again produced violent effects. The track, which by then began to dry out, helped speed up the transitions. Alcaraz’s iron arm was able to develop his prodigious power and little by little his opponent began to appear slower. More drowned. The only thing that had changed was the speed of the track.
Alcaraz won 4-6 in the first round and when the second started he discovered that Ramos was gone. Demoralized, the veteran from Mataró lost his rhythm and his taste for precise shots that had pushed Alcaraz at times towards the mental terrain of his obsessions and hobbies. Free of ties, the number one in the world added game after game with an ease that was more idle than astonishing. The public in Rome wanted more emotions after waiting so many hours under the downpour. The match was just a formality to place the 20-year-old Murcian from El Palmar at the top of the circuit for the third time in his short career.
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