Given what has been seen so far, the ATP definitely hangs a poster: yes, a rival is being sought. Today, at this precise moment of the season, there is no stopping Carlos Alcaraz, who eliminates rivals and discounts rounds at an exhibition pace. The Murcian is resized and shines his number one without anyone being able to stop him, be it Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev or Tommy Paul, in the latter case. Faced with each challenge, the Spaniard responds more emphatically. He had never beaten the Canadian; he challenged the Italian, equalized until the crossing last week in Indian Wells; the Russian chained 19 victories until they ran into each other on Sunday and left scalded; and 12 victories linked the American against Spanish players until this Tuesday, when he was struck by lightning: double 6-4, in 1h 36m.
If in January there were doubts that someone could derail Novak Djokovic, since Rafael Nadal’s muscles broke quickly and that of Alcaraz himself even earlier, right now the feeling is spreading that, absent the two giants, there is no who can put a stop to the one from El Palmar. Pletórico, the young king of the circuit – summoned this Wednesday in the quarterfinals with Taylor Fritz, at 2.30 (Movistar Deportes) – hits and knocks down with great ease, overflowing with confidence and plenty of resources.
It simply hurt Paul where the American falters the most, looking for the right and insisting over and over there. The Murcian demands to go to the limit all the time, submits to a hellish rhythm and at the first slip, his opponent slipped. He did not lose brilliance, but given the ground and decanted the first set, he did not escape the stocks. No matter where he looked for the gap, Alcaraz was there to return one more and always with more force, solid with the serve –79% success with the first and 68% with the second– and withering with the blow. Amazingly elastic. He signed 24 winners and in the only option that Paul sought, he responded relentlessly. Today, there is nowhere to sink the tooth. Right now, it’s Alcaraz against Alcaraz.
The American had not lost to a Spaniard since Nadal beat him last season in Acapulco; since then, a ko after another, including one against the Mallorcan (París-Bercy) and another against Alcaraz himself (Montreal), with illustrious people such as Carreño, Bautista, Ramos or Verdasco among those killed. However, the boy (19 years old) already has very little of an upstart and a lot of phenomenon. He goes from acceleration to acceleration, without the rest coming up with the formula to block his path. Launched, he now faces an unprecedented challenge – he has never faced Fritz – and impresses: 17 wins in the 18 duels he has played this year.
Rocky Balboa and Djokovic
“I always remember the Rocky movies [Balboa, la saga del boxeador interpretada por Silvester Stallone], of all Rocky songs. Every game day, in the car I play three songs from the film as Eye of the Tiger [Ojo de Tigre]. We sang them with my team, we sang very loudly, it’s something that motivates me a lot”, the quarterfinalist said in a post-match interview with The Tennis Channel.
The next stumbling block is a stem that last season gave a significant stretch and that after some feints has managed to consolidate itself among the strongest on the circuit. Fritz, 25, occupies the tenth rung of the ranking and in one year here he has managed to win four of the five titles he has, three of them on hard courts. With a lanky appearance and very long limbs, apparently clumsy, the American exploits his wingspan (1.96) to cover the court and take it from him to build the point, without fear of melee in exchanges. He got rid of the young Rune (6-3 and 6-4) and previously got rid of Denis Shapovalov, a reflection of his potential. Last month he lifted the title in Delray Beach –ATP 250, the fourth category– and at the beginning of the year he celebrated the United Cup.
“It will be tough, because he is a new rival for me. But I always say it: the key to everything is to play relaxed, enjoy, smile all the time. I will watch some videos of him, but obviously I will focus on my game”, said Alcaraz, who downplayed the difference in speed of the track compared to Indian Wells – “they all measure the same and I adapt my game to the different places” – and who reiterated his desire to measure himself with Novak Djokovic, who said that being at the maximum is the best: “Well, it is difficult to answer this. I would say that in Madrid [el año pasado, cuando venció el español] he played very, very well, and it was even. But I agree. When he is 100 per cent he is one of the best in the world, considering everything he has achieved and the incredible level he delivered in Australia. I want to play against him when he’s at his best and I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it”.
In other matches of the day, Jannik Sinner beat Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-2, the Finn Emil Ruusuvuori beat Botic van de Zandschulp 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 and Francisco Cerúndolo also progressed (3 -6, 6-3 and 6-2 to Lorenzo Sonego) and Daniil Medvedev (6-4 and 6-2 to Quentin Halys). Meanwhile, in the women’s box, the punch of Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina prevailed, the two most fit players at the moment; the first one got rid of Barbora Krejcikova (6-3 and 6-2) and the second, winner in Indian Wells, of Martina Trevisan (6-3 and 6-0). Jessica Pegula (4-6, 6-3 and 7-6 (2) to Anastasia Potapova) joined in the quarterfinals.
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