Two High Seeds need a five-set thriller to win the French Open

PARIS – The emotions were separated only by a short walk in the official gardens at the French Open on Wednesday.

First, Alexander Zverev saved a match and won five sets at the central Philippe Chatrier Court. Carlos Alcaraz then did the same at Simonne Mathieu Court, covering the red clay like few men in Roland Garros as he ran into turns and seemingly beyond.

The fresh French Open, refreshed to the point where old hands could use a tour to avoid falling into a new wall or freshly planted shrub, has certainly not lost its ability to test its fighters to the limit.

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

On Tuesday night in the first round, No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, champion in Monte Carlo and finalist in Rome, had to fight two sets down to get rid of Lorenzo Musetti, a young Italian whose backhand with one hand is beautiful. enough for the Uffizi, but their legs still do not look strong enough for the toughness of the matches with the best of five sets.

There are calls for the complete abolition of the top five by those who see it as inappropriate for the digital age of top-notch social media and entertainment overload.

But the formation favors the best players in the long run and certainly worked out plenty of long-form magic in Wednesday’s second round. Zverev, No. 3, battled with Sebastian Baez for 3 hours and 36 minutes before prevailing, 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5, after saving a match with a big and bold. served the T that Baez failed to return to in the 10th game of the final set.

“You just have to find a way,” said Zverev, who is 8-1 in five sets at Roland Garros, which is both good and bad news (perhaps he should not go that far).

“Some players, the greats, Rafa, Novak and Roger, always find a way in the most difficult moments,” he added. “It simply came to our notice then. “I’ll never be at that level, but I’re just trying to get closer to them.”

Alcaraz, No. 6, was dueling with his Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos Viñolas for 4 hours and 34 minutes in what certainly resembled the tournament match so far.

Mathieu Court is nicknamed the Greenhouse because it was built in botanical gardens and is surrounded by exotic plants. But the Funhouse may have been more appropriate in this case, as Alcaraz extended the rallies far beyond what was possible with his foot speed and improvisational running skills reminiscent of Nadal in his youth barking and clipping. .

It was not Alcaraz’s best race of 2022. Far from it. But he certainly seemed his toughest as he found a way forward, 6-1, 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

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

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

Despite his obvious talent, it is a great challenge to reach a Grand Slam tournament in your adolescence as one of the favorites. And Alcaraz often seemed tighter than usual on Wednesday: forcing the problem with ground turns and throws, instead of waiting for the start time to hit.

Meanwhile, Ramos, a 34-year-old left-hander with a dirt yen, skillfully changed pace and mixed tactics. Ramos looks light – slightly weak – but his sharp, outwardly forward hand is a heavyweight punch, and with that he defeated even Alcaraz over and over again.

But after carefully and cleverly building the platform for overthrow, Ramos could not complete the construction. Serving for a 5-4 victory in the fourth set, he had match points and tightened enough on his forehead to hit the tape instead of clearing the net.

Two points later, Alcaraz tied the set at 5-5 and then dominated the tiebreak after failing to convert three sets into the 12th game.

The momentum was clear with the youngster, but Ramos, in his honor, refused to respond to this reasoning, jumping to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set before Alcaraz roared again to 3-3 with the rare mix of attack. and defense.

They exchanged service breaks again, but Alcaraz did not finish running and digging. With Ramos serving again, Alcaraz produced his most dazzling defense in the match: he stretched to hit a corner and then sprinted on the ground to extend the rally again, something he gave Ramos, as it now made sense. , the chance to miss a volley in the net.

“Great spot,” Alcaraz said. “Long match. “Being able to run like that and get to the point like I did is amazing.”

The return was not yet complete, however, and in a race full of abrupt momentum changes, another turn is hardly ruled out at Funhouse. But Alcaraz did not make it fun for Ramos. With the crowd shouting “Carlos” between the points, he served the victory in love with a forehand winner and three aces.

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

“I have obviously played a lot of games on the ground and I have played many more hours on the pitch since then,” said Alcaraz. “I feel good.”

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

It would not be a surprise if his rematch with Alcaraz lasted much longer than that.

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