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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 3, 2021


18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz stunned Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2), 0-6, 7-6(5) becoming the youngest man to defeat a Top 3-ranked player at the US Open since 1973.

Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA/US Open

Spiking roars echoing in his ears, Carlos Alcaraz rocked Arthur Ashe Stadium and shocked Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Riding his crackling topspin forehand and an audacious drop shot, Alcaraz stunned the third-seeded Tsitsipas 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2), 0-6, 7-6(5) in a coming-of-age US Open third-round conquest.

More: Serena to Decide Future after US Open

The 18-year-old Spaniard made history as the youngest man to defeat a Top-3 US Open seed since 1973—and the youngest man to reach the round of 16 in Flushing Meadows since a 17-year-old Michael Chang and 18-year-old Pete Sampras did it back in 1989. Contesting just the fourth major main draw of his career, Alcaraz will play German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk for a quarterfinal spot.

“This victory means a lot to me—the best match of my career—the best win for me,” Alcaraz told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez afterward. “To beat Stefanos Tsitsipas is a dream come true for me. For sure most special for me.”

It’s a brutal loss for Tsitsipas, who created his own roadblocks throughout his return to Flushing Meadows. The 12-minute bathroom break/clothing change, Tsitsipas took before the fifth set against former No. 1 Andy Murray in round one, US Open finalist Alexander Zverev’s allegations the Greek receives illegal coaching via text from his father when he takes the bathroom breaks and Tsitsipas’ insistence to keep taking timeouts—as he did vs. Adrian Mannarino in round two—not only provoked opponents to take verbal shots against him it left many in the crowd roaring in support of Alcaraz.

Despite all that, Tsitsipas still dominated for stretches winning five games in a row in the second set, four consecutive games in the third set—when he blew a 5-2 lead—and six straight in the fourth set.

Ultimately, Tsitsipas didn’t choke this match away, Alcaraz stepped up and took it away. The Greek hit seven of his 15 aces in the final set winning 18 of 20 points played on his first serve in the set, but Alcaraz played fearless tennis in the decisive breaker just as he did in the opener. 

"In the beginning of the first set, came really strong. Ball speed was incredible. I've never seen someone hit the ball so hard," Tsitsipas said. "Took time to adjust. Took time to kind of develop my game around his game style. It's one of these matches and one of these feelings where, you know, you pick up at some point of the match, you feel like you're in control, and it doesn't really go your way at the end.

"It's kind of bitter, I would say, especially after such an incredible fourth set by my side, dominating, being just so aggressive, not dwelling on the past. It was a great fourth set.

"I don't know. I felt like he played the fifth one completely -- the way he played the first set basically, careless, going for every single shot. I have never seen someone play such a good fifth set, honestly."

The pumped up teenager turned the game’s largest Grand Slam stage into a star turn.

The 55th-ranked Alcaraz’s ability to swing his sledgehammer topspin forehand to displace Tsitsipas behind the baseline then flick feather duster drop shots was a key stroke to his biggest career win. Alcaraz fired 34 forehand winners—20 more from that wing than Tsitsipas, who owns one of the most damaging forehands in the game.

The youngest man to win a match at all four majors in the same season since Hall of Famer Goran Ivanisevic in 1989, Alcaraz didn’t play this match on hope. Instead, the Spanish teenager came out clubbing the ball with the conviction of a man who knew he could win it and ripped his forehand with the zeal of a true believer converting the crowd with his enthusiasm and energy.

"I think the crowd was an important, how to say, it was important for me the crowd," Alcaraz said. "I think without the crowd I couldn't have the opportunity to play a great fifth set and be able to beat Stefanos. I think the crowd was really amazing. I really loved it."

Tsitsipas plays a crowd-pleasing all-court style, but some New York fans regard his habitual breaks as stall tactics and gamesmanship and let him know about it.

Afterward, Tsitsipas said it's not about winning admirers, it's about winning matches.

"Look, I'm not pretending that everyone loves me. My intentions are not to be loved by everyone," Tsitsipas said. "Every person can choose their favorite player, pick a side. I felt that way, but I kind of have ignored it."

The US Open is the first Grand Slam to welcome full capacity crowds to all main draw sessions since the pandemic began. Today's titanic upsets by 18-year-olds Alcaraz and Leylah Fernandez, who dethroned defending champion Naomi Osaka, showed the Ashe Stadium crowd can play a role in the ongoing drama on court.

"Then the crowd here, I guess these two things were the most intense that took place here," Tsitsipas said. "I was surprised, I mean, in a way. I mean, I don't really let myself take me down because I'm out there playing my game. I mean, fan support is important, but I just need to go out there and perform. It doesn't matter at that point."

Nine minutes into the match, Alcaraz elevated with electric athleticism. Whipping a running forehand winner, Alcaraz earned break points in the third game. Attacking behind a forehand down the line, the Spaniard stuck a backhand volley in the corner then soared throwing down a smash celebrating the doubles break 3-0 lead with a firm “Vamos!”

Alcaraz flew through 16 of the first 21 points holding at 15 for 4-0. Seventeen minutes into the match, Tsitsipas got on the board with his first hold.

The Spaniard flicked up a lob coaxing a smash to end the set with another break. Alcaraz won three of five break points snatching a one-set lead after 33-minutes.

Meanwhile, Tsitsipas called for the trainer to remove taping from his feet after the set. As the trainer came out some fans jeered in a nod to the eight-minute bathroom break/clothing change leave of absence Tsitsipas took before the final set of his five-set win over Andy Murray.

The delay did not slow Alcaraz’s roll. Hammering his forehand with menacing intent, Alcaraz was beating Tsitsipas in crosscourt exchanges as he earned a fourth break for a 2-0 second-set lead. Alcaraz extended his lead to a set and a 3-0 as Tsitsipas gave some frustrated glances to his father and coach, Apostolos, in the support box.

Tennis Express

For the first set and a half, Alcaraz was often thumping his forehand 8 to 10 mph faster than Tsitsipas. In a tense 10-minute game, Alcaraz showed a nose for net, attacking on three points in a row and rocketing a 134 mph serve winner. Tsitsipas withstood it all. Timing his forehand more comfortably, Tsitsipas rocketed some big forehands creating his second straight break for 4-3.

Tsitsipas soared through five straight games before the Spaniard stopped his slide with a forehand down the line. When Tsitsipas served for the set, Alcaraz stepped up earning triple break point.

Though he wasn’t landing his first serve, Tsitsipas was firing his forehand with ambition. The third seed saved all three break points then snapped an ace down the middle to take the set and level the match after 90 minutes.

Typecast as a clay-courter at the start of his pro career, Alcaraz showed why he’s a danger on all surfaces today. Often playing right behind the baseline, Alcaraz showed he can take the ball on the rise, flatten out his forehand and knows how to close at net.

Versatility and all-court acumen are major assets for Tsitsipas. He exhibited it all opening the court and sometimes finishing with his forehand down the line. The Monte-Carlo champion soared through four games in a row to go up 5-2.

Twice, Tsitsipas served for the third set and Alcaraz answered breaking back both times. Rattling the Greek’s racquet with a drive Alcaraz screamed breaking back to level after 10 games. The teenager showed toughness denying break points to hold for 6-5.

The weight and depth of the Spaniard’s drives forced Tsitsipas to respect the deep ball—opening opportunities for the drop shot to turn the tiebreaker in Alcaraz’s favor. Alcaraz opened the breaker with a slick dropper winner, deployed the dropper-lob combination to extend his lead to 4-1. A jittery Tsitsipas double faulted and Alcaraz crushed a serve for set points at 6-2.

The world No. 55 boldly bamboozled Tsitsipas with a drop shot to set up a backhand down the line snatching a comeback third set hurling a huge fist toward the screaming crowd.

Eighteen years after his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, reached the US Open final bowing to Andy Roddick, Alcaraz was one set from the fourth round.

Continuing his tournament tradition, Tsitsipas took a four-minute bathroom break to change his clothes. Alcaraz also departed for a clothing change. Returning refreshed, Tsitsipas broke to open the fourth set sparking his second five-game winning streak of the match. Though Alcaraz looked to be physically fading, he showed the shotmaking skill to light it up anyway.

Tsitsipas won 10 of 11 first-serve points and broke three times tearing through a shutout fourth set in 27 minutes. Alcaraz took treatment for an apparent lower back or leg issue and reloaded for his second career five-setter.

Three hours, 35 minutes into this hard-court fight, Alcaraz amped up his intensity. Saving a break point, Alcaraz showed guts driving a pair of big strikes down the line holding to level after six games as his support box stood and exhorted him.

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A buzzingAshe Stadium crowd was roaring as Alcaraz rapped a clean backhand down the line that helped him hold to force the tie breaker.

Alcaraz saw his shot at history and took it.

Deploying the drop shot to draw the Greek in, Alcaraz laced a forehand pass for a 4-2 lead. Tsitsipas hit three aces in the breaker, but didn’t do enough with a drive volley and couldn’t handle a dipping pass as Alcaraz earned triple match point.

On his third match point, Alcaraz slashed a diagonal forehand to end this four hour, seven minute fight in superb style.

Champions ranging from Rafael Nadal to John McEnroe to Dominic Thiem have tabbed Alcaraz as a gifted talent and future champion.

The absence of legends Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams and Serena Williams from this US Open field made many call the 2021 US Open the official end of an era.

The emergence of Carlos Alcaraz today gives us cause for excitement of a new era.


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