Carlos Alcaraz upsets Stefanos Tsitsipas, Emma Raducanu advances to US Open
For years, tennis has been wondering how it will evolve as its biggest stars head out.
If the first week of the US Open is any indication, it could be with three 18-year-olds named Carlos Alcaraz, Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez barging in where they don’t yet belong, but clearly do.
With screams of “Vamonos!” Friday through the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Spaniard Alcaraz pulled off the tournament surprise by knocking out Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, winning a five-set classic, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 0 -6, 7-6 (5).
After Alcaraz was finished, Leylah Fernandez became the star.
Fernandez, the product of an Ecuadorian father and Filipino mother who grew up in Canada, faced defending champion Naomi Osaka and outlasted the four-time Grand Slam winner to win 5-7, 7-6 ( 2), 6-4 in front of a rowdy crowd of the night who widely expected Osaka to stage a clinic against a world No.73-ranked teenager who had never made it past the third round of a Grand Slam.
Osaka struggled to take control of the game and resolve Fernandez’s left-handed power, an always dangerous combination. Fernandez looked like she could make an exit with Osaka serving for the game at 6-5 in the second set, but she had the audacity to break Osaka’s serve, then ran away with the tiebreaker and didn’t never looked back.
Just a few months ago, Tsitsipas, with his dirty blonde hair and prince-philosopher soliloquies on tennis as a form of self-expression, appeared to be the heir apparent to the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger. Federer.
But since spitting out a two-set lead over Djokovic in the Roland Garros final, he’s wasted his goodwill with inconsistent play, claims that getting the Covid-19 shot isn’t necessary and an endless series of mid-game bathroom breaks. that go on and on. His father, Apostolos, who is also his trainer, was in his corner on Friday, but there weren’t many more.
After a few games on the playing fields, Alcaraz strutted into the Arthur Ashe Stadium like a middleweight boxer determined to land quick crosses over his opponent’s jaw. Has he ever.
Alcaraz, known as “the next Rafa” in tennis circles, especially in Spain, already had Tsitsipas on his heels in Game 3 when he tore a cross forehand from Tsitsipas, who stopped and watched. the mark and shook his head with a “are you kidding me?” to laugh.
Alcaraz was only just beginning. By the time he broke Tsitsipas’s serve for the third time to win the first set, the seats at the sport’s biggest stadium were filling with thousands of fans who acted as if they had been named with Alcaraz for years. .
It’s a funny thing about little-known young tennis players like Alcaraz and Raducanu, who were both way outside the top 200 a year ago – they are developing followers like independent groups. The courts of large tournaments function much like small nightclubs. As word spreads of a player whose shots and stage presence can’t be missed, the bleachers and standing positions surrounding these outdoor courts swell beyond capacity, with fans speaking out years later. to catch Alcaraz or Raducanu in a small place up close, the way early Talking Heads users still talk about those nights at the CBGB in the East Village in the 1970s.
It was the vibe of Raducanu’s Thursday game on the backcountry of tennis known as Court 10 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the last court before exiting the south gate.
Raducanu, whose parents are Romanian and Chinese, was born in Canada before moving to England at the age of 2. She was hardly known in England before Wimbledon. There, on her Grand Slam debut, she made her way into Week 2 of the tournament with her fearless, crisp punches and aversion to giving up a chance to put pressure on her opponent, whether by whipping up the forehand or second serve returns. that look like first balls.
The Wimbledon run ended in spectacular fashion in the round of 16, when, playing for the first time in front of 12,000 screaming fans on the No.1 pitch, she suddenly couldn’t breathe. She withdrew from the match, losing a set and 3-0 to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, leaving all of England devastated.
In an interview Thursday, Raducanu said what made her suffer was physical – simple exhaustion brought on by a series of long rallies against a mature opponent – and not what most assumed to be a panic attack from the pressure of a spotlight more intense than anything she could. have anticipated.
“I played at such a high level for so many days and was not used to it,” Raducanu said after her second round victory over China’s Zhang Shuai. “We traded 20 punches and I couldn’t control my breathing. The doctors advised me not to continue. I hated to retire.
Since then, Raducanu has played and won numerous matches, at tournaments in Northern California, Chicago and the US Open, where she has won 10 straight sets, including three wins in the qualifying tournament.
She is long and lean and athletic in the most graceful way. She stays low to the ground as she moves across and into the field, chasing every ball she’s least likely to hit. While waiting to receive the serve, she crouches like a shortstop anticipating a clean line.
On Thursday afternoon, Raducanu had the overflowing crowd on court 10 chanting his name. As she served to win the match against Zhang, the drums started ringing just beyond the fence. They weren’t just any drums. It was the thunderous sounds of the Howard University Marching Band, which performed all day in the field. And they were intermittent, playing without warning, even as Raducanu was about to throw his ball into the air to serve.
Raducanu said she was wrong in thinking the drums were celebrating her. At the end, a large crowd of fans clung to the fence to ask for autographs and selfies. She forced everyone, almost forgetting to grab the racquet she dropped in the corner of the court on the last point before leaving.
She will move to a bigger stage on Saturday for her third round match against Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo.
“I’m ready to play anything, even the P17 backyard park,” she said, referring to the Flushing Meadows outdoor practice courts.
Alcaraz was more than ready. His fight against Tsitsipas lasted more than four hours. After letting Tsitsipas tie the game at one set apiece, Alcaraz was down 5-2 and two serves breaks in the third set, and Tsitsipas intimidated him around the pitch like a man playing a boy. It was a time when most players, let alone a teenager, were going against the third player in the world.
Alcaraz did the opposite. He exploded forehands and backhands down the lines, and put Tsitsipas on the run chasing drop shots and topspin lobs as he drew even at 5-5. Soon Tsitsipas was talking to himself after almost every stitch. A drop shot and a scorching passing shot won the set in a tiebreaker for Alcaraz, whose hallmark is a subconscious little jump he takes after hitting the winners.
He twirled his fist as the crowd exploded. Only Alcaraz’s coach, former world number 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, remained at his seat. Forgive him, he’s been here before. Tsitsipas left the field for another of his signature washroom breaks, to a series of catchy boos.
The break worked for Tsitsipas, who won the next six games to take the fourth set, 6-0. It was another moment the teenager could have faded away.
Instead, he called for a field massage, and in the fifth set they went, trading serves plays until what seemed like an inevitable decisive tiebreaker as the crowd chanted “Carlos ! Carlos! Carlos! “
Once there, Alcaraz continued to explode, leading with his chin. A forehand forehand to Tsitsipas’ stomach which he drove into the net gave Alcaraz three match points. He needed everyone, missing an inch at 6-4 on a topspin lob before a final winner down the line ended the outing night, with one final crowd explosion as he s ‘collapsed on the ground.
“The best game of my career,” said Alcaraz.
Almost as good as Talking Heads at Max’s in 1975.
This is how tennis evolves.