Alcaraz And Nadal Begin Battle For No. 1 In Paris

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Christophe Guibbaud / FTT)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 2 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Two generations of Spanish tennis players came to the French capital city chasing after the same prize this week. As Day 3 of the Rolex Paris Masters unfolded in the Paris neighborhood of Bercy on Wednesday, a pair of Spaniards – young and old – began their battle for World No. 1 as Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal played their opening matches in Accor Arena.

By the end of the day, only Alcaraz remained in the chase. He won to advance, while Nadal was upset after showing early flashes of greatness.

On Monday, 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz was feted by ATP Tour chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and presented the ATP No. 1 trophy, one of 28 players who have reached World No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. In Wednesday afternoon’s showcase match, the top-seeded Alcaraz faced upset-minded No. 38 Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan and won 6-4 6-4. He fired nine aces, hit 30 winners, won 85 percent of his first-serve points and was effective at the net, winning 11 of 12 net points during the 72-minute match.

“First round in every tournament is never easy,” Alcaraz said in his post-match interview. He closed the victory by capturing 12 of the final 14 points. “You have to be really focused, you have to try to get good rhythm, good feeling in the first round. I am really happy with the performance , the level that I played, and I’m looking forward to getting better in the next round.”

The young Spaniard, who has won a Tour-leading five singles titles this season – including two Masters 1000 crowns, at Miami and Madrid –  is 5-3 since winning the US Open on September 11 and achieving the No. 1 ranking the next day. Alcaraz, who was appearing in his first match after losing in the semifinal round to eventual-champion Felix Auger-Aliassime in Basel last Saturday, had his left knee taped out of precaution.

“Everything has come so fast,” Alcaraz admitted in a press conference earlier this week. “I didn’t think at the beginning of the year that I’m going to have the year that I’m having right now. I always believe in my team and in my work, so this is something that came with the hard work that I put in every day, the hard preseason, the work during the year with my team. Everything pays off.”

Next, Alcaraz will play No. 28 Grigor Dimitrov in the third round after the Bulgarian beat 59th-ranked lucky loser Fabio Fognini of Italy, 6-0, 7-5, with the help of five breaks of serve.

Meanwhile, in the featured match on Court Central Wednesday evening, the World No. 2 Nadal took on No. 31 Tommy Paul of the United States and lost a tough three-setter, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1, in two hours and 31 minutes. It was the biggest win of Paul’s career.

Paul hit 29 winners to 27 unforced errors, while Nadal countered with 21 winners but committed 35 unforced errors. The 25-year-old American, who converted five of eight break points, outpointed Nadal 99-88.

The 36-year-old Spaniard, in his first match since September 5 and his first overall since becoming a father last month, had a chance at returning to No. 1 for a 210th week if he could win the Paris title and Alcaraz did not advance to the quarterfinals. On paper, it seemed like a good possibility. After all, Nadal already had won two major titles – the Australian Open and Roland Garros – this season. Now, he will have to wait another year to win his first Rolex Paris Masters title.

“I am excited to be here,” Nadal said in his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday. “I am here to try my best. Hopefully, I will be ready for [Wednesday], and I’m going to try to be competitive. Let’s see. I am excited about it.”

Instead, Nadal will return home to regroup and resurface in Turin for the Nitto ATP Finals. On Thursday, Paul will face No. 14 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, who went the distance to beat No. 16 Denis Shapovalov of Canada, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-4.

Auger-Aliassime extends winning streak to 14, qualifies for Turin

World No. 8 and eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada fended off Sweden’s Mikael Ymer, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 7-6 (6) in three hours and 30 minutes to extend his winning streak to 14 matches. Auger-Aliassime, who has won three straight titles – at Florence, Antwerp and Basel – the 22-year-old young Canadian recovered from a set and 1-4 down. He converted four of five break points and saved 14 of the 17 he faced from the 74th-ranked Swedish qualifier.

“Somehow, I found a second wind after saving those break points at 4-1,” Auger-Aliassime said during his post-match interview. “I played better and better, coming through the court much better, serving better. It was pretty epic. Three hours and 30 minutes on the court, quality rallies. He was making me work all the time. Definitely a win to remember.”

Next, Auger-Aliassime will face 37-year-old sentimental French favorite Gilles Simon. The 188th-ranked wild card from Nice, who is playing his last ATP Tour tournament before retiring, overcame World No. 11 and ninth seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4, in three hours and five minutes on Court Central in a featured afternoon match that stretched into mid evening.

Simon broke Fritz for the fourth time to go ahead 5-4 in the final set. Then, he consolidated the break and won on his first match point after Fritz killed a seven-shot rally by sailing a backhand return long. Simon, who outpointed Fritz 115-109, overcame 34 unforced errors by hitting 19 winners. He benefited from his opponent’s 57 unforced errors.

The loss eliminated Fritz from the ATP Race To Turin and it meant that Auger-Aliassime had qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals.

De Minaur shows true grit, earns first Top-5 win

Alex de Minaur garnered the biggest win of his career – his first against a Top-5 opponent after going 0-18. The 25th-ranked Aussie went the distance to beat World No. 3 and fourth seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, in two hours and 45 minutes on Court Central. De Minaur won on his fourth match point after Medvedev double faulted.

De Minaur hit 28 winners and converted three of 10 break points against Medvedev, who struck 10 aces and hit 33 winners. He outpointed the Russian 104-103 to advance to the third round in Paris for the third time.

“It’s a good one to get, for sure,” De Minaur said in his post-match interview. “It’s the end of the year, everyone’s a bit tired, but I’m very proud of my performance. I just played very smart. I knew it was going to be a chess match out there, both baiting each other to be aggressive, but you also didn’t want to be too aggressive at times. It was an absolute battle and I’m very happy I was able to come out on top.”

Next for de Minaur is a third-round match against World No. 21 and 16th seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, who turned back No. 45 Jack Draper of Great Britain, 6-3, 7-5. Tiafoe withstood 11 aces and 30 winners from Draper and saved all seven break points he faced. He hit 27 winners and outpointed his opponent 66-62.

Around the Accor Arena

• World No. 5 and fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece eliminated No. 27 Daniel Evans of Great Britain, 6-3, 6-4, behind 28 winners and no breaks of his serve in their second-round match on Court Central. Tsitsipas outpointed his opponent 62-49 to move into the third round against 64th-ranked French qualifier Corentin Moutet, who outlasted No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), in two hours and 52 minutes, in a match that ended at 3:05 a.m. Thursday.

• World No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland was upset by No. 18 Holger Rune, 7-5, 6-1. The 19-year-old Danish rising star, who has reached the final of his last three events (Sofia runner-up, Stockholm champion and Basel runner-up), broke Hurkacz four times in eight opportunities, did not face any break points on his serve, and improved to 15-2 since September 27.

By losing, Hurkacz is eliminated from the Race To Turin. On Thursday, Rune, who is headed to play in the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan next week, will face World No. 9 and seventh seed Andrey Rublev. The Russian qualified for Turin on Wednesday following the losses by Hurkacz and No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz.

• No. 23 Lorenzo Musetti of Italy won his eighth match in his last 10 with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat of No. 106 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia. Musetti dropped only three points on his first serve, made only six unforced errors and outpointed Basilashvili 60-0 during their 70-minute match. Next, Musetti will face World No. 3 and third seed Casper Ruud of Norway in the third round.

Wednesday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Thursday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

By the numbers

Felix Auger-Aliassime has a career-long 14-match winning streak after beating qualifier Mikael Ymer to advance to the third round. He held serve in 94 straight service games and 114 of his last 115, covering titles at Florence, Antwerp and Basel the past three weeks, before finally being broken in the second set during his second-round match against Ymer.

“Quotable …”

“It’s quite interesting how even after two or three weeks, leave your son at home and not be able to see him, it’s something quite interesting how even with this after only three weeks knowing him, you start missing him, no?

“Yeah, new experience. All the changes are difficult in this life, and you need to adapt to it. But, you know, it’s at the same time is true that we are lucky today that with the technology, everything, we can do video calls any time that you want, so it’s always that helps.”

Rafael Nadal, during his pre-tournament press conference, talking about being separated from his newly-born son for the first time on tour.