Two seeds need five-set thrillers to win at Roland Garros

PARIS — The thrills were only separated by a short stroll through the formal gardens of the French Open on Wednesday.

First, Alexander Zverev saved a match point and won in five sets on main court Philippe Chatrier. Then Carlos Alcaraz did exactly the same on Simonne Mathieu Court, covering the clay like few men have ever covered at Roland Garros as he sprinted around the corners and seemingly beyond.

The fresh-looking French Open, revamped to the point that veterans could take advantage of a guided tour to avoid bumping into a new wall or a freshly planted shrub, certainly hasn’t lost its ability to test its fighters. at the limit.

The old guard, led by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, have had it relatively easy so far in the men’s tournament, but the leaders of the new wave have been at the limit. breakup.

Tuesday evening in the first round, the seeded n ° 4, Stefanos Tsitsipas, champion in Monte-Carlo and finalist in Rome, had to rally from two sets to get rid of Lorenzo Musetti, a young Italian whose one-handed backhand is pretty. enough for the Uffizi but whose legs don’t yet seem strong enough for the rigors of best-of-five-set matches.

There are calls to remove the best of five altogether from those who see it as unsuitable for the digital age of social media highlights and entertainment overload.

But the format favors the best players over the long haul and certainly did a lot of long-lasting second-round magic on Wednesday. Zverev, the No. 3 seed, dueled Sebastian Baez for 3 hours 36 minutes before prevailing, 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5, after saving a match point with a big and bold serve the T Baez failed to return in the 10th game of the final set.

“You just have to find a way,” said Zverev, who is 8-1 in five-set matches at Roland Garros, which is both good and bad news (maybe he doesn’t). should not cover the distance as often).

“Some players, the greats, Rafa, Novak and Roger, always find a way in the most difficult times,” he added. “That’s why they are what they are. I’ll never be at that level, but I’m just trying to get closer to them.

Alcaraz, seeded No. 6, dueled fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos Viñolas for 4 hours 34 minutes in what certainly looked like the game of the tournament so far.

The Cour Mathieu is nicknamed the Greenhouse because it was built in the middle of botanical gardens and is surrounded by exotic plants. But the Funhouse might have been more appropriate in this case, as Alcaraz extended the rallies far beyond the probable with his foot speed and on-the-run improvisation skills reminiscent of Nadal in his youth barking and giving scissor strokes.

It wasn’t Alcaraz’s best game of 2022. Far from it. But it certainly looked like his best as he found a way forward, 6-1, 6-7(7), 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4.

“These are the types of matches that help you progress in your career,” said Alcaraz, a 19-year-old who started the season considered a star of the future but became a star of the present instead. .

He won four titles, including the Miami Open on hard courts and the Barcelona Open and Madrid Open on clay. He beat Nadal and Djokovic back to back in Madrid before taking a break to rest and recuperate for Paris.

For all his obvious talent, it’s quite a challenge to arrive at a Grand Slam tournament as a teenager as one of the favorites. And Alcaraz often looked tighter than usual on Wednesday: forcing the issue with his groundstrokes and drop shots, rather than waiting for prime time to strike.

Meanwhile, Ramos, a 34-year-old southpaw with a yen for clay, deftly changed pace and tactics. Ramos looks like a lightweight – light to the point of being gaunt – but his full, inside-out forehand is a heavyweight punch, and he’s overwhelmed even Alcaraz time and time again.

But after carefully and cleverly building the platform for an upset, Ramos couldn’t quite finish the construction job. Serving for the win at 5-4 in the fourth set, he had match point and tightened his forehand just enough to hit the boards instead of clearing the net.

Two points later, Alcaraz tied the set at 5-5 and then topped the tiebreaker after failing to convert three set points in Game 12.

The momentum seemed clear with the youngster but Ramos, to his credit, refused to buy into that reasoning, taking a 3-0 lead in the fifth set before Alcaraz pulled it back to 3-3 with his rare shuffle of attack. and defense.

They traded breaks of serve again, but Alcaraz wasn’t done running and digging. With Ramos on serve again, Alcaraz produced his most dazzling defense of the match: stretching to hit a forehand into a corner, then sprinting onto clay to extend the rally again, which gave Ramos, understandably on edge now, the chance to miss a volley into the net.

“Excellent point,” said Alcaraz. “Long game. To be able to run like that and score the point like I did, it’s amazing.

However, the comeback was still not complete and in a match full of sudden changes in momentum, another turn was hardly out of the question in the Funhouse. But Alcaraz didn’t please Ramos at all. With the crowd chanting “Carlos” between the points, he served the win to Love with a forehand winner and three aces.

Next challenge: Sebastian Korda, a 21-year-old American whose star is also rising and who is the only man to beat Alcaraz on clay this season, beating him in straight sets in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters last month .

“I obviously played a lot of clay court games and I’ve played a lot more hours on the court since then,” Alcaraz said. “I feel good.”

So did Korda, who beat French veteran Richard Gasquet, 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-3, Wednesday in 2 hours 19 minutes.

It wouldn’t be surprising if his rematch with Alcaraz took a little longer than that.

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