Teenage Dreams Come True For Alcaraz, Fernandez At US Open

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Mike Lawrence/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 4, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

New York City crowds surely love an underdog and during Friday’s US Open third-round match between World No. 3 and third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and unseeded Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, Alcaraz became the fan favorite on Arthur Ashe Stadium. He played the dream match of his young life – career-defining, maybe – and won to advance to the fourth round.

As Friday afternoon turned to evening, the 18-year-old Alcaraz made a bit of US Open history, too. By beating the 23-year-old Tsitsipas, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 0-6, 7-6 (5) in four hours and seven minutes – in just the second five-set match of his career –the 55th-ranked Alcaraz became the youngest to defeat an ATP Top Three player at the US Open since rankings were introduced in 1973. He dug deep and went toe-to-toe against the rising Greek star. By the end of the match, Alcaraz was comfortably hitting winners, taking control of the match, applying pressure and showing consistency.

As the last 10-shot rally concluded with Alcaraz unleashing a beautiful forehand winner that left Tsitsipas motionless – his 60th winner of the match – he fell to the ground and showed plenty of joyful emotion. The crowd rewarded him with a thunderous standing ovation.

“I just don’t know what happened out there in the court. I can’t believe that I beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic match,” Alcaraz said in press following his victory. “For me, it’s a dream come true.

“I didn’t give up. I believe in me in the last point.”

There were plenty of records established by the young Spanish conqueror. Alcaraz became the youngest to defeat a Top Three player at a major since Michael Chang defeated Stefan Edberg at the 1989 French Open; the youngest to reach a major round of 16 since Andrei Medvedev at age 17 in the 1982 French Open; and the youngest to reach the US Open men’s round of 16 since Chang at age 17 in 1989. Additionally, Alcaraez advanced to his first career major round of 16 in his fourth major appearance.

“It surprise me, really,” Alcaraz said of the crowd’s support. “I didn’t think that – yeah, the crowd was behind me all the time, supporting me, pushing me up in every moment. It surprise me, yeah, really.”

In a defeat which Tsitsipas called “bitter,” he had nothing but praise for Alcaraz.

“I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard,” Tsitsipas said. “Took time to adjust. Took time to kind of develop my game around his game style.

“I felt like he played the fifth [set] completely – the way he played the first set basically: careless, going for every single shot. I have never seen someone play such a good fifth set, honestly.”

Tsitsipas added: “I didn’t expect him to raise his level so much, especially after having lost the fourth set this way. He was a completely different player.”

Next, Alcaraz will face 141st-ranked qualifier Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, who defeated Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen, ranked No. 130, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4, to reach his first round of 16 in his 18th major appearance.

Others advancing to the round of 16 from the bottom half of the draw: No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia defeated No. 74 Pablo Andújar of Spain, 6-0, 6-4, 6-3, and next will meet No. 24 seed Dan Evans of Great Britain, who went the distance to beat No. 73 Alexei Popyrin of Australia, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (1). Also, No. 11 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina ended the run of 138th-ranked Slovakian qualifier Alex Molcan, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and next will play 117th-ranked Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp, who outlasted No. 80 Facundo Bagnis of Argentina, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2. Finally, in a five-setter that nearly eclipsed the four-hour mark, No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada outlasted No. 18 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, by hitting 27 aces and 76 winners that overcame 74 unforced errors. The young Canadian will face World No. 50 Frances Tiafoe of the United States, who fought past No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev from Russia 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1, in a match that didn’t end until 2:14 a.m. Saturday morning – one of the latest finishes in tournament history.

Oh, Canada! Fernandez stuns Osaka

It was a great day for 18-year-olds in the women’s draw, too. Just hours after 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz’s dream victory over No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, history repeated itself on Arthur Ashe Stadium. That’s because Canadian 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez from Montreal, stunned defending US Open champion and this year’s No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4, in two hours and four minutes, to reach her first major round of 16. The loss ended the World No. 3 Osaka’s title defense in the third round. The last woman to successfully defend a US Open title was Serena Williams, who won three straight between 2012-14.

Although Osaka hit 11 more nine more aces (15-6) and nine more winners (37-28) than the lefty Fernandez, she also committed 36 unforced errors and became unglued at times, tossing her racquet a couple of times in frustration.

“I’m not really sure why. Like, I felt like I was pretty – I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point,” Osaka said during her post-match press conference.

“Like normally I feel like I like challenges. But recently I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way, and I feel like you can feel that. I’m not really sure why it happens the way it happens now.

“But, yeah, it’s basically why. You could kind of see that. I was kind of like a little kid.”

Meanwhile, the steady-as-she-goes Fernandez, who won her first WTA title earlier this year on a hard court in Monterrey, Mexico, stayed calm, kept her cool and seemed unnerved that she was taking on a four-time major winner in Osaka.

After Osaka won the final nine points of the first set to win 7-5, Fernandez refocused and played steady, took command of the second-set tie-break, then jumped ahead 2-0 in the final set and rode it all the way to victory. She kept her cool and never got rattled.

“I guess I wanted to stay on court a little bit longer and I wanted to put on a show for everybody here,” Fernandez said during an on-court interview after the biggest victory of her young career. “One hour was not enough for me.”

And when did Fernandez think she could pull off the upset of Osaka? “From the very beginning,” she said confidently and with a huge grin, which drew huge applause from the appreciative New York fans.

Fernandez’s victory was her second Top Five win of her career and it advanced the World No. 73 to a Sunday round of 16 first-time meeting against 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber of Germany, who was impressive in counterpunching her way to victory against 2017 US Open titlist Sloane Stephens of the United States, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. It was Kerber’s 16th victory in her last 18 matches.

“Yeah, I’m happy that I’m through and to being in the second week now,” the 33-year-old Kerber said in press.

Meanwhile, the rest of the round of 16 in the lower half of the women’s draw took shape Friday as No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine easily beat No. 25 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia, 6-4, 6-2, to advance against No. 12 seed Simona Halep. The two-time major winner from Romania defeated No. 19 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-3.

Also, No. 8 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic won her third straight-set match of the fortnight, this time a 6-4, 6-2 win over 134th-ranked Russian lucky loser Kamilla Rakhimova. Next, she will face No. 9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who went the distance to beat No. 18 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. No. 15 Elise Mertens of Belgium bested No. 20 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, 6-3, 7-5 to advance against her sometimes doubles partner, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who took out No. 26 seed Danielle Collins of the United States, 6-3, 6-3, in a match that didn’t take court on Louis Armstrong Stadium until almost midnight.

Osaka not sure when she’ll play next

During Naomi Osaka’s post-match press conference, in which she took questions in both English and Japanese (answering all questions in English) the four-time major champion and defending US Open titlist broke down in tears by the end of the session.

“I feel like when I win I don’t feel happy. I feel relief. And when I lose I feel very sad.. And I don’t think that’s normal. …

“Basically I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match (tearing up). Sorry.

“Okay, yeah. I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”

Friday’s US Open results

Saturday’s US Open order of play

By the numbers

• The Carlos Alcaraz-Stefanos Tsitsipas match was the 14th match this week breaking the four-hour barrier, most since records have been kept at the US Open and second most all-time at any major (18).

• The 2021 US Open marks the first time all Top 10 women’s seeds advanced to the third round as well as all Top 20 women’s seeds who started a major advanced to the US Open third round.

• It’s been 70 majors since the last American man won a major (Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open).

• The last American – man or woman – to win the US Open was was Sloane Stephens in 2017.

• The highest seeded American remaining in either the men’s or women’s main draw is No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka.

“Quotable …”

“When I fall into the court at the end of the match I thought my family and my friends, other people who was supporting me in Murcia. All my team was also supporting me from the academy.

“I thought every person that was supporting me from Murcia from the beginning of this history when I was a kid and everything. Was amazing.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain on the feeling of victory as he fell to the court in celebration after defeating World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“You have to play your best tennis to win here, and that’s what I am trying to grow into in this tournament.”

Elise Mertens of Belgium, after reaching the round of 16 with a straight-set victory against No. 20 seed Ons Jabeur. On Monday, Mertens saved six match points en route to a first-round win over Rebecca Peterson of Sweden.