6, 5, 4…is the rise of Carlos Alcaraz going to continue this week? - UBITENNIS
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6, 5, 4…is the rise of Carlos Alcaraz going to continue this week?

Canadian Open and Cincinnati Masters 1000 may allow the Spaniard’s ranking to reach new zeniths

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CARLOS ALCARAZ OF SPAIN - PHOTO: ANGEL MARTINEZ / MMO

By Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Numbers are fascinating, even worshipped by some, unquestionable and reassuring. We may forget the fallibility of subjective evaluation and rejoice with the sense of power that comes with belief that any reality, from outer space to the inner world, can be measured, and expressed with numbers.

 

And numbers have been fuelling tennis headlines over the last weeks as Carlos Alcaraz has been heading on, his rise in the rankings unblemished by the losses to Musetti and Sinner in the finals in Hamburg and Umag and ticking on like an ultimate countdown.  

In the next two weeks Alcaraz will have limitless opportunities to reap points in the two Masters 1000 leading up to the US Open since he will only be dropping the points he earned last year in Cincinnati where, after qualifying, he reached the round of 32 before losing to Lorenzo Sonego.

There is more at stake for those he is chasing: Medvedev, winner in Canada and semi-finalist in Cincinnati is surely capable of bettering such results, but it will not be a walkover. Zverev is fully committed to rehab and unable to defend his Cincinnati 2021 crown. Nadal, who missed all the second part of the last season and could be a serious challenger in terms of point harvesting, has just had to pull out from Montreal owing to his still-healing abdominal injury.    

Nitpickers may suggest that the most recent hurdles cleared by Alcaraz have not coincided with immaculate victories and that what had seemed for a long time to be a perfect set-up engine, meticulously fine-tuned, has been starting to misfire.

No doubt that his 2022 campaign had been a crescendo up to his triumph in the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, where he brushed aside Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev. The match with Djokovic was of supreme quality and will stand out as one of the gems of the year.

Till then, his loss to Korda in Monte Carlo was the only lapse and could be considered an incident, as it may occur to any guy setting foot on clay for the first time in months, adorned with a new status as a tennis prodigy after his win in Miami and awaited by a roaring buzz of expectations.

In Paris, a first yellow alert did appear when he was on the brink of defeat in round 2 with Ramos-Vinolas in a match stained by 74 unforced errors. Then followed shining performances against Korda and Khachanov before falling in the quarter-finals to Zverev who overpowered him throughout most of their match. But Zverev was formidable that day and Alcaraz strove to the very end to find an escape way and was close to coming back, missing a set point in the fourth set tiebreak that would have tugged him into a decider.

His star seemed to be shining at Wimbledon after his impressive dominance over Otte, but two days later was obscured by Sinner. On this occasion, for the first time in his newly established career, his game appeared blunted.

Was his body starting to remind him he’s a teen, capable of formidable performances, but still to develop that endurance and resilience which are needed to maintain peak cruising over longer stretches?

Then followed defeats in Hamburg and Umag finals on clay. A final itself cannot be considered a disappointing result, but his halo of invincibility was dimmed.

Particular concern was his second defeat in a month to Sinner, where he appeared at loss for solutions over the last one hour and a half, his boisterous self-confidence slowly deflating and his body language revealing frustration. In his press conference, Alcaraz admitted such a sense of helplessness and said to be determined to figure out a way to win against the Italian. 

The point is that Alcaraz made such a great impression in the first part of this season that it has become hard to believe he can lose a match.

At his best, he can deliver any shot at any moment, with a variety rarely seen before. In an inspired instant, he can switch from herculean ball-striking to caressing a dropshot, which will land, bounceless, a few inches after the net. What about his eagerness to volley, often following his wondrously effective kick serve? Not to mention his serve which alternates power and spin, his endurance in winning long rallies, scuttling far and beyond to fling in a winner from out of the blue. Opponents cannot but be befuddled. 

And then, is clay really the surface that best suits his game? In an interview with Marca, he said he’s comfortable on all surfaces but feels that his dynamic game most suits hard courts. If we couple this statement with his enthusiasm for being in Montreal and playing the Canadian Open for the first time, after throwing in some hard work for a successful transition from clay to hard, we can be positive that the fire has been kindled, and the countdown for reaching the highest ranking orbits is running once again.      

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Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman

The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.

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Diego Schwartzman (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired. 

 

The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona. 

Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori. 

“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”

The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas. 

Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33. 

“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said. 
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”

The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match. 

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup

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The lineup for Day 3 (twitter.com/lavercup)

Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar.  Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup.  Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first. 

 

Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time.  And each match on Sunday is worth three points.


Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm

Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles.  So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday.  Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday.  Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist.  If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)

Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles.  While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever.  Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.

Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay.  It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1).  And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday.  Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary

Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games.  He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts.  However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.


Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary

Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday.  If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday

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The lineup for Day 2 (twitter.com/lavercup)

In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2.  And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit.  With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup? 

 

Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day.  Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm.  And each match on Saturday is worth two points.


Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm

These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions.  Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event.  Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati.  Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup.  Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.


Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session

Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play.  Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive.  Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17.  Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon.  They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets.  Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm

Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday?  He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock.  Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios.  The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.

Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5.  Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York.  Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets.  Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day.  But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.


Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session

Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here.  This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals.  Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2.  De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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