Alcaraz battles back from the brink

Sixth-seeded teenager fights off match point to deny fellow Spaniard in five

Carlos Alcaraz Roland-Garros 2022 2e tour©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Carlos Alcaraz was earmarked as a name for a post 'Big Three' era even before he last stepped onto Court Simonne-Mathieu.

On Wednesday, he served a rousing reminder why in a match point-saving triumph over Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round at Roland-Garros.

Far from his polished best, the 19-year-old’s grit when the chips were down proved pivotal in a 6-1, 6-7(7), 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4 victory.

In 2021, the then 18-year-old had not yet won his first title and had to work his way through qualifying just to make the main draw before Jan-Lennard Struff ended his stay in the third round.

On Wednesday, he returned to Simonne-Mathieu as the No.6 seed, where it was standing room only to witness the teenage phenomenon in action.

His left-handed adversary had been on the receiving end of this punishment twice before, both times as part of milestone runs.

He was the first player to face a then 16-year-old Alcaraz in the teenager’s tour-level debut in Rio de Janeiro.

He consequently became Alcaraz’s first top 100 victory.

Last year, he succumbed in the semi-finals in Umag before his teenage countryman went on to land his first tour-level trophy.

Alcaraz will hope a third straight defeat of the world No.44 serves as his lucky milestone omen as his bid for a first major title continues.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Roland-Garros 2022, second round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Story of the match

His passage to the third round could not have been running any smoother when he took a 27-minute opening set. It was the last sniff of an easy set.

Ramos-Vinolas was increasingly the steadier of the pair and after eking out a two-sets-to-one lead, a wildly inconsistent Alcaraz found it difficult to hide his frustration.

High moon-balling forehands into the right-hander’s backhand frequently drew the short replies as the contest wore on and allowed the 34-year-old to take control.

With a break in hand he carried it to within a whisker of the upset, but the teenager was not to be denied.

Match point slipped by on Ramos-Vinolas’s serve at 5-4 and with momentum ever so slightly in his corner, Alcaraz plucked up the courage to push for more once the tie-break rolled around.

It was his most flawless play since the opening set and after 3 hours and 48 minutes the crowd was back on its feet as the match entered a deciding set.

Neither player could buy a service hold for much of the fifth, but any risk of the teenager fading was canned when Alcaraz broke a third time with relentless defence.

Alcaraz speaks of patience and he needed bucketloads to stay with a tricky foe.

A 10th ace sealed it after four hours and 34 minutes.

French veteran Richard Gasquet or fellow rising prospect, 21-year-old Sebastian Korda, are his next task at hand.

Stat of the match

Alcaraz finished the showdown with 74 winners and just as many unforced errors, considerably more than his opponent’s 32 and 54, respectively.

He converted only eight of 31 break point opportunities but it was enough to see him through his 12th straight match win and 30th from 33 this year.

What the winner said

Carlos Alcaraz: “I feel tired but it has been a great battle against Albert. I knew it was going to be a great match, a tough match. We both fought until the last point. I’m so happy with the performance today.

"I feel like being at home... The support from the beginning until the last ball was unbelievable. It wouldn’t have been possible to win the match without (the crowd) support from the beginning."