Alcaraz v Khachanov: Things we learned

 - Stephanie Livaudais

The 19-year-old dazzled fans under the lights on Court Philippe-Chatrier with his shot-making and speed

Carlos Alcaraz, huitième de finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

No.6 seed Carlos Alcaraz stormed into the second Grand Slam quarter-final of his young career with a commanding performance over Karen Khachanov on Sunday evening.

After quickly snatching up the first two sets, Alcaraz stayed calm as he was dragged into a battle by the No.21 seed in the third.

Alcaraz sealed the victory 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, and dazzled fans under the lights of Court Philippe-Chatrier with his shot-making and court coverage on his way to a rematch with Alexander Zverev in the next round.

Here’s what we’ve learned from the teenager’s 20th clay-court win of the season, and his 14th victory in a row.

Another imperious display by the heir apparent

With every round, Alcaraz lives up more and more to his billing as the next big thing in tennis, and the heir apparent of the ‘Big Three’.

While there have been multiple generations of talented players that have come and gone in the decades of dominance by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, the 19-year-old has been peaking at just the right time to threaten their claim to the throne.

In his second Chatrier night match of the tournament, Alcaraz stormed out of the gates against a lacklustre Khachanov, who struggled to keep up with the teenager’s firepower. The Spaniard reeled off the first five games of the match before Khachanov finally got on the scoreboard, and he didn’t face a break point in the opening two sets of the match.

He also kept a champion’s composure late in the third set, with fans in the stands rallying behind his opponent and cheering for the underdog to extend the match. The Olympic silver medallist raised his level and found his first break of the Alcaraz serve, before saving five match points in a marathon 12-minute game to hold for 5-4.

But Alcaraz stayed calm, sticking to his game plan to close out the match on his next opportunity to close out the victory in straight sets. 

Carlos Alcaraz, huitième de finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Movement has made the difference – but shot-making is key

“Carlos Alcaraz is one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen,” said Mary Carillo during an NBC broadcast of the match, and John McEnroe echoed his agreement.

You don’t have to be an expert commentator or tennis legend to appreciate how Alcaraz’s court-coverage can make the tennis court seem like the size of a postage stamp. But what’s perhaps even more important: he also has the variety of shotmaking that’s needed to turn a point in his favor from anywhere on the court.

His lateral movement and footwork are sharp, and Alcaraz is not a player that will panic if pulled into the court and away from the baseline. Just look at the way Alcaraz responded when Khachanov finally broke back in the third set, converting one of only two break points he generated in the match to level the score at 3-3.

Alcaraz broke the Russian back straightaway with one of the points of the match: an athletic effort to rally with Khachanov from the baseline, then come in on a short ball with a crisp volley at the net, and then sprint back to the baseline to track down the subsequent lob.

The tweener lob he hit in response, which dropped just barely in the corner and out of the Russian’s reach, is a shot of the tournament contender all on its own.

Dare we say, he’s the Real deal?

He might already be one of the best tennis players at the moment, but Alcaraz is still a teenager having just turned 19 earlier this month.

And as a diehard football fan, there was no way that he was going to miss out on being in the stands across town at Stade de France supporting his favourite team Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

He was one of several tennis players in attendance last night, joining the likes of Rafael Nadal, Aryna Sabalenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

“I think it’s a great way to pass the time and there will still be time to prepare for the next match,” he told Marca ahead of the final. “I’ve always said I support Madrid, and It would be exciting if they won.”

If you thought that he would let the emotional high of seeing Madrid lift another European trophy would zap him of his energy, then you don’t know Alcaraz.

He showed his maturity and discipline on Sunday night – and no signs of fatigue or sluggishness – across two hours and 14 minutes on Chatrier, coming out of the gates swinging and maintaining his level even when Khachanov dragged him into lengthy games toward the end of the third set.

Alcaraz, who has still only lost one match on clay this season, is now the youngest men’s player to reach two Grand Slam quarter-finals since 1993, when 19-year-old Andrei Medvedev reached this stage at Roland-Garros and the US Open.

Carlos Alcaraz, huitièmes de finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Clément Mahoudeau / FFT

A rematch with Zverev awaits

After making quick work of the Tokyo 2020 silver medalist, Alcaraz will take on the Olympic champion next in a mouth-watering rematch with Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.

Like Alcaraz, Zverev had been tipped as the next big thing in tennis since the start of his career. At 25-year-old, the German may be starting to live up to his own hype having risen as high as world No.3 and two ATP Finals titles and a Grand Slam final appearance at the 2020 US Open under his belt.

While Zverev leads their head-to-head 2-1, he will be on high alert after the Spaniard dismantled him in the Madrid Open final earlier this month. Afterward, Zverev called Alcaraz “the best player in the world right now”.

There are few who would disagree with that assessment, which makes it all the more fascinating to see how Zverev will try to solve the biggest question in tennis right now: How to defeat a player who shows no weaknesses?

Another good sign for Alcaraz: His next opponent has lost all 11 of his matches against Top 10 ranked opponents at Grand Slams. It’s a trend Zverev will have to reverse quickly against the world No.6, who owns a 1-2 record of his own after a win over Stefanos Tsitsipas at last year’s US Open. 

Alexander Zverev, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Messieurs, 1/8 de FinaleJulien Crosnier / FFT