Alcaraz Never Stopped Believing In Himself, His Game

Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Manuela Davies/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 8, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

What began innocently enough as the last US Open men’s quarterfinal, between Next-Generation stars Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish prodigy, and Jannik Sinner, 21, of Italy, on Wednesday evening evolved into an instant classic that lasted five sets and more than five hours and wound into the wee hours of Thursday morning on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

No problem, right? After all, New York is a city that never sleeps – the No. 7 subway line that runs between Times Square and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows operates all day and all night-long – and the fans who stayed awake until the conclusion at 2:50 a.m., after five hours and 15 minutes of scintillating and sublime tennis, were rewarded for their effort and enthusiasm. Certainly, so was Alcaraz, who won 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3, after fighting off a fourth-set match point at 5-4, 40-30 from Sinner.

After closing out the quarterfinal victory with a service winner, Alcaraz fell onto his back on the court in celebration – exhaustion, too? – then tapped his chest and gave thanks to the few thousand of the original 24,000 fans, who stayed the entire match until its conclusion. He shared a warm embrace at the net with Skinner.

Bring on the bagels and espresso, please!

“I always say you have to believe in yourself all the time, and that hope is the last thing you lose,” the No. 3 seed Alcaraz expressed during his on-court interview with ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe. Alcaraz leads the ATP Tour in wins this season with 49. He’s also won four titles in 2022. “I just believed in myself and believed in my game.”

The 5:15 duration of the Alcaraz-Sinner tussle broke the previous record for latest US Open finish by 24 minutes that was shared by three other matches. This match was the second longest ever at the US Open, exceeded only by the Stefan Edberg-Michael Chang 1992 men’s semifinal, which lasted five hours and 26 minutes and was won by Edberg.

“Honestly, I still don’t know how I did it,” Alcaraz admitted.

Of the 382 points contested during the quarterfinal match, Alcaraz won 199 to 183 for Sinner. The Spaniard hit five aces, struck 58 winners to 38 unforced errors, converted 11 of 26 break-point chances and won 45 percent of his receiving points. As for Sinner, he countered with 11 aces and 61 winners overall but also committed 63 unforced errors. Both won more than 60 percent of their net point attempts.

There was suspense and tension throughout and, at the end, disappointment – naturally – expressed by Sinner, despite being a part of an amazing battle between two of the brightest, rising talents of men’s tennis.

“This one will hurt for quite a while,” Sinner said in press. “But tomorrow I will wake up – or today I will wake up – trying to somehow [think of] only the positives.”

Alcaraz, who was pushed to five sets by Marin Cilic of Croatia on Monday night during the fourth round, in a match that lasted just under four hours and ended at 2:23 a.m. Tuesday morning, has become the youngest man to advance to the US Open semifinal round since Pete Sampras won the title at age 19 in 1990.

After playing nearly nine hours of tennis on Arthur Ashe Stadium over the past two rounds in a short period, the acrobatic Alcaraz from Murcia admitted in press that “probably at the end of the match, I was [at] my end.”

Next, Alcaraz will face 24-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, a native of Hyattsville, Md., who defeated World No. 11 and ninth seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4, in an economical two hours and 36 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium Wednesday afternoon, two days after eliminating 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. The 22nd-seeded Tiafoe became the first U.S. man to reach the semifinals since Andy Roddick in 2006 as well as the first Black man from the United States to reach a US Open semifinal since Arthur Ashe 50 years ago in 1972. It will be the first major semifinal for both Alcaraz and Tiafoe.

The other semifinal on Friday will be between World No. 7 Casper Ruud of Norway and No. 27 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia.

With Nadal gone, and with neither Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic playing in New York this year, it’s been a New York fortnight full of surprises and some truly memorable late-night finishes. Regardless of who emerges from this talented group – Alcaraz, Tiafoe, Ruud, Khachanov – to play in Sunday afternoon’s title match, there will be a first-time Grand Slam champion crowned.

Wednesday’s US Open results

Thursday’s US Open order of play

Focus will be on men’s doubles semifinals

With the men’s singles semifinals set for Friday afternoon and evening, the men’s focus on Thursday will be on the doubles semifinals. Both of the top-seeded teams remain in contention for the year’s final major title.

First, No. 1 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, who are the defending champions, will face 2019 champs and this year’s No. 13 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Colombia. Ram and Salisbury lead the head-to-head series 5-1.

The second semifinal will match No. 2 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain against No. 3 seeds Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador. Koolhof and Skupski have won all three previous meetings against Rojer and Arevalo-Gonzalez, including in this year’s Australian Open semifinals.

• Ram and Salisbury, 29-12 this season and 132-62 lifetime, are looking to be the first team to successfully defend their US Open title since Australia’s Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in 1995-96.

Flipkens and Roger-Vasselin advance to mixed doubles final

Unseeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France upset No. 2 seeds Zhang Shuai of China and Mate Pavic of Croatia, 6-4, 5-7, 10-4, to reach the mixed doubles final.

In the title match, Flipkens and Roger-Vasselin will face the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between No. 4 seeds Storm Sanders and John Peers, both of Australia, and Caty McNally and William Blumberg, both of the United States.

By the numbers

• The Carlos Alcaraz-Jannik Sinner quarterfinal, which went five sets, lasted five hours and 15 minutes and finished at 2:50 a.m. Thursday morning, 24 minutes later than the previous US Open record shared by three matches. It was also the second-longest match ever played at the US Open, behind the 1992 semifinal won by Stefan Edberg over Michael Chang in five hours and 26 minutes.

• At age 19, Carlos Alcaraz is the youngest man to reach the semifinals of the US Open since Pete Sampras of the United States, who was 19 in 1990, a year he went on to win the title.

“Quotable …”

“I wasn’t expecting that at the beginning of the tournament. Trying to keep my expectations low. I’m super proud of myself. My goal, basically, is to be consistent. I remember when I was an underdog and every match like that was surreal. Now if feels pretty routine.”

– World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, during her press conference after defeating American Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 7-6 (4), to reach the US Open semifinals for the first time. Swiatek is the first women’s No. 1 seed since Serena Williams in 2016 to reach the US Open semifinals.

“It’s going to be really, really tough. Everybody knows the level of Frances [Tiafoe]. He has beaten Rafa Naal; Rublev in three sets. He’s playing unbelievable right now; high confidence. He loves the crowd. He loves this court.”

– World No. 4 and third seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, during his post-match press conference, looking ahead to facing American Frances Tiafoe.