I was already looking forward to the next round. There was little reason to doubt Carlos Alcaraz, the current future of tennis, the old future of tennis, in the quarter-finals of the French Open against Sasha Zaverev. Although Zaverev is technically ranked 6th to 3rd in Alcaraz, the official rankings do not always keep up with reality. Carlitos is coming from a 14-match winning streak. Just three weeks ago, in Madrid, he knocked Zaverev off the court like extra clay from his sneaker trade, losing just four games in their final. Alcaraz had already knocked out his nerves in the second-round five-setter. Since then, the 19-year-old has fought together in six sets against strong competition, returning to his usual tour-best form. And in the meantime, for all his admiration, Xavier could still cross a terribly cold streak: Throughout his career, the 25-year-old faced off against the top-10 players in a major tournament 0-11. He’ll hit them somewhere else, but can’t do that in the best-of-five. Alcaraz would seem to be the worst possible ally to break that bad trend at its current level.
Denial is a powerful medicine. Even though the scoreboard kept running to the other side, I was sure Alcaraz would win. That’s how strong his season was, and perhaps even more so, in this tournament Sasha Zaverev, how much more I invested in his storyline than the known amount. Denial of reality wins in two sets. Xavier played great tennis. This quadrangle held his legs well in the long baseline assembly; His speed was enough to catch Alcaraz’s constant drop shots. His backhand was irresistible. And even his second serve, notorious for errors in pressure, did not leave him this time, as he won a decent 58 percentage points behind it. Over time I imagined a double fault that never materialized. Late in the fourth quarter, Carlos got a chance to take a break, sending a second delivery at 129 miles per hour for better measurement. With the crowd’s love and the pace of the match completely changing for Alcaraz, Xavier was short and made some of the best shots of his season:
—Joy 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (6). The match is a blow to high expectations for Alcaraz and relatively low expectations for Zverev. He’s been around for a while, but because of the aging curve of most tennis players, he’s just entering his early physical stages. And while his game rarely surprises you, it’s no less efficient. Although Xavier’s Alcaraz may lack versatility and dynamic range – ranges from 100 miles of forehand and drop shots, threatening to deepen each other’s damage – you can still go a long way on this tour with a huge serve and a large groundstroke. He’s old news, but old news is still 6-foot-6 with excellent technique and lateral movement. Afterwards, Zverev said he was “tearing off his pants” because Carlitos started to bend the match like he did and he was happy to have a decent look at the title here before it became impossible: “I hope I can win it first. He’s all of us. Starts to hit and we will have no chance.