• Saurabh Nagpal

Carlos Alcaraz anchors his sinking ship just in time to enter the third round of Roland Garros



Among the beauties of grand slam tennis is its ability to stretch a match to extreme levels, expose the nitty-gritty of how the game is ebbing and flowing, and bring out a player’s best and worse in one single game. Post the completion of his match in the Court Simonne-Mathieu arena, the 19-year-old Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz, would have made a note or two about the cyclical nature that tennis matches can have, as he displayed his full force of grit and determination in coming from behind and edging past his fellow countrymen, Albert Ramos-Viñolas, 6-1, 6-7(7), 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4 in the second round of Roland Garros.


Alcaraz is the talk of the town and the Tour right now. Many bookmakers have him among the very favourites to lift the famous La Coupe des Mousquetaires, that is, the Muskteereers’ Trophy, come the 6th of June. After all, the Spaniard is the youngest player to break into the Top 10, since Rafael Nadal did, 17 years ago. His ascent to the top has materialised at an astronomical pace, and it is almost bizarre to think that around April 2021, his rank was floating somewhere in the region of the 130s. During his climb upwards, the sixth seed has claimed five titles, including this season’s Masters in Madrid and Miami.


Off the back of 10 consecutive victories, including wins against the biggest of the fishes, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, in consecutive matches, Alcaraz started like a Ferrari, as one would have expected him to, steamrolling the first set 6-1. Thoroughly dominant (and, at times, delicate, with his drop shots) from the baseline, everyone got a glimpse of why the 19-year-old has been termed a clay-court specialist.


Not foreign to the tricks and trades of the surface, having won most of his professional matches on clay (180 out of 254), the 34-year-old Ramos-Viñolas had his say on the happenings of the match, as he took the next two sets 7-6(7), 7-5. Staying disciplined on his serve and in rallies, his banal consistency got to the extravagant skill and power of Alcaraz, who was pushed into committing more forced errors (19 and 12) and unforced errors (24 and 15) in sets 2 and 3, while his forced and unforced errors were merely 7 and 2 in the first set.


At the start of set 4, Alcaraz broke Ramos-Viñolas’ serve and garnered a 2-nil lead but, without wasting any time, the former World No. 17 recovered the lost ground. From then on, there was a growing sense that the game was slipping from the clutches of the younger Spaniard, which reached its climax at 5-4 when Ramos-Viñolas’ was serving for the match. The heroism of saving the match point proved to be the spark that re-energized the teenager and flipped the momentum dynamics of the game. Following that, there was an air of inevitability around Alcaraz, as he broke Ramos-Viñolas’ serve to level the scoreline and eventually took the set in the tie-break with relative ease.


Into the fifth set, the tide turned again as the 34-year-old found himself leading the set 3-0. However, the sense of imminence and self-belief surrounding Alcaraz hadn’t alienated him and, keeping his compose under pressure – the most impressive feature of his throughout the game – he came roaring back to grab six out of the next seven games and clinch the contest, while successfully displaying the full array of his passing, drop, and volley strokes in the process.


Alcaraz’s first win in the tour was against Ramos-Viñolas more than two years ago in Rio de Janeiro. After more than four-and-a-half hours of gruelling-but-enthralling tennis, Alcaraz earned his 30th win of the season – a staggering feat in itself. But this mentally and physically taxing hustle with his Spanish compatriot would have taught him some valuable lessons, not in the least that there are no easy victories in grand slams.


The 19-year-old will now face 27th seed Sebastian Korda of the United States on Friday in the third round of the French Open.


Photograph: Volodymyr TUtko/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0