Alcaraz steers past gallant Cobolli

The 20-year-old is competing as the top seed at a Grand Slam for the first time

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland-Garros 2023, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Carlos Alcaraz laid down the gauntlet to his title rivals with an impeccable 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 display to dismiss qualifier Flavio Cobolli.

Three years ago, Alcaraz and Cobolli duelled in qualifying at an ATP Challenger event in Todi, Italy, with the Spaniard prevailing 6-2, 6-3, just prior to his meteoric rise up the rankings.

Arriving to a rockstar reception on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Monday, the No.1 seed put in a similarly dominant display to race into the second round in just under two hours.

Story of the match

The first set was off the charts - 24 minutes that showed why he's world No.1 and the new standard bearer for men's tennis.

The top seed's kick serve, followed by a blazing forehand winner from shoulder height, drew gasps from the stands. It got even better.

Alcaraz notched up 4-0 by retrieving a canny Cobolli angled shot, connecting with a backhand slice around the net post, which he struck from touching distance to his bench. 

It was as if Alcaraz expects to make these hot shots, and simply turned to his team with a cheeky smile.

The Spaniard prolonged his towel break so he could watch this majestic stroke in the replays on the big screen up in the stands.

Could it get even better? It could: Alcaraz was still in top gear and motored further ahead, winning 100 per cent of first serve points in the second set.

World No.159 Cobolli, making his Grand Slam main draw debut, valiantly fought on but to no avail – a clipped Alcaraz backhand pick-up winner made both players laugh, with the Italian raising his arms aloft in disbelief.

With Cobolli serving at 3-5, 0-40, Alcaraz held three match points. The Italian, in his first top-10 clash, went on all-out attack and managed to level the set with explosive play.

The world No.1 was briefly tested, but swiftly passed with flying colours.

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland-Garros 2023, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Key stats

US Open champion Alcaraz remains undefeated in Grand Slam first round encounters with a 9-0 record, moving to 3-0 at the first hurdle at Roland-Garros.

His net play was exquisite, with several hot shots pinging around social media. He finished with an 18/20 success rate up the court.

The top seed will want to be slightly more ruthless in the second round against world No.112 Taro Daniel, having converted just seven of 18 break points on Monday evening.

The 20-year-old is already vastly experienced, clinching his 60th career victory on clay courts compared with just 13 defeats on the terre battue.

What the winner said

Match reaction: "It's great to play here, my first time on Suzanne-Lenglen. It's a great court and yeah I really enjoyed that, with great energy from the crowd. I really wanted to come back with a great level."

On surrendering three match points at 3-5: "Not too good, not a great feeling. I had to recover, I had to quickly forget that and then I managed to play a great level."

All about enjoyment: "I try not to think of it all as this important. I try to enjoy on court all my tennis and that's the most important thing. I heard from Stefanos [Tsitsipas] that he started to enjoy being on court more thanks to me. That was great to hear from other players and a lot of other people, who started to play tennis because of me. That's something I try to do in every match, enjoy and smile on court."

On chats with his coach Juan Carlo Ferrero: "He has told me a lot of times too that he enjoys watching my tennis. He's a really close person to me, a really important person for me.

"When I leave the court and talk with him, my team, they always remind me of all the great shots, the hot shots, to laugh about it. That means I enjoy it, playing great, playing relaxed and this is what we talk about every day."