PARIS.- Surprised? Maybe. Or not, after all. There are alexander zverevarms up, full smile, winner, become brand new Roland Garros semi-finalist, once again. At the Philippe Chatrier stadium, the German built a resounding victory over Carlos Alcarazthe revelation boy of the season, whom he beat 6-4, 6-4, 4-6 and 7-6 (9-7) in a duel of 3 hours and 18 minutes, an excellent aperitif before the superclassic between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Is it unexpected that the world number 3, a more experienced player, beats the sixth ranked, a boy who has just turned 19? It shouldn’t be, and it might even be considered the most logical thing to do. But that’s where some details come in. Because the young Murcian arrives in Paris to the rhythm of a locomotive in full swing, thrown for everything, intractable in recent weeks. Even more: recently, Alcaraz had overtaken Zverev in the final of the Masters 1000 in Madrid (6-3 and 6-1), as a very close and favorable precedent. Champion in Barcelona and Madrid, Alcaraz came to this crossroads with 14 consecutive victories and a mark of 8 wins and only 2 losses in matches against Top 10 rivals.
But it’s possible that Zverev has been a little overlooked, or maybe Alcaraz has grown too big in recent weeks to outshine his opponent. But the German was there, in his condition as world number 3, and with the possibility of discussing number 1 sooner or later with Djokovic. That’s why this relief at the end, the cry of fury, the way of letting go after all this tension. Sascha is again in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam.
Considered a prodigy at the time, Zverev was world number 1 in the junior circuit; today, he is 25 and has won several tournaments, including two ATP finals, several Masters 1000 series and the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, and has long been among the best in the world, but a Grand Slam title is due, the kind of event that gives a golden polish to the career of any tennis player. He’s never been closer than at the 2020 US Open, when he lost to Dominic Thiem after leading two sets. Reached Australia 2020 semi-finals; last year he was also a semi-finalist here, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets, and at the 2021 US Open, beaten by Djokovic, also in five sets. The German was close. But the first big crown has always been refused. Part of the explanation is in an unusual number: So far, he had a very poor record: 0 wins and 11 losses against Top 10 rivals in Grand Slam tournaments.. Every time he faced an opponent of the same state, he was shipwrecked. Zverev broke the curse at the right time, with a victory that proved him right and allowed him to arrive with a certain air against another major opponent: Djokovic or Nadal.
It is also true that Zverev had shown shortcomings. In this tournament, without going any further, he was on the verge of saying goodbye, with this match point he faced against Sebastián Báez, and the Argentinian narrowly missed this duel for the second round. But he knows how to play on Parisian brick dust, of course. He was not champion, but he has a record of 23 wins and 6 losses here. Even so, he somehow got “point” to the duel with Alcaraz. And that the Murcian had also edged the precipice, since in the second round he was about to lose against Albert Ramos Viñolas, whom he recently beat in five sets, after 4 hours and 34 minutes of combat.
Zverev was focused from start to finish, knowing he had to do everything right. Alcaraz, in debt, paid a dear tribute to the errors of the first two sets. He managed to turn things around against Ramos Viñolas, but it was going to be more difficult for him against an opponent of Zverev’s level. The Spaniard bounced back late in the third set, when he escaped the debacle with a fantastic drop when down 4-4 and 30-40; if he failed, his opponent broke and then served for the match. But Alcaraz held his serve and then broke, with another fall that left the German scattered.
With no break in between, the game entered a high temperature zone. Alcaraz had a terrible ninth service game and was 4-5. Zverev, with serve up for grabs, couldn’t contain the Spaniard, who broke him with two backhand bombs from the corner. They reached the tiebreaker. Alcaraz had a set point but left a backhand cross into the net. Then it was Zverev who took the advantage at the net in a center from short touches. He couldn’t close it in the first, but he did in the second, with a return winner, a backhand whiplash. Thus ended a match. “I told him on the net that he will win this tournament not once, but many times. I hope to win it at least once before he beats us all,” the world number 3 said about what he talked about with his loser as soon as the match ended. For the moment, the one who is still in the race is the German, who has used his greatest experience in this kind of duels and is once again a stone’s throw from the title. With the whole future ahead of him, Alcaraz must wait to conquer Paris.