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French Open: Alcaraz saves match point; Nadal earns 300th Slam win

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On a day when he was not at his best, 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz thinks and hustles his way through the finish line to reach the third round. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic cruise.
This was the sort of point in the sort of contest that, if 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz eventually reaches the heights so many believe he will, the lucky folks on hand at Court Simonne Mathieu on Wednesday night just might regale dinner guests for years with tales that begin, “We were there when….”
Not, mind you, the match point Alcaraz saved in his second-round French Open marathon against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, a fellow Spaniard who is 15 years his elder. That one, necessary as it was, of course, to the eventual 6-1, 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 outcome in the sixth-seeded Alcaraz’s favor, was rather mundane: a three-stroke exchange that ended with Ramos-Vinolas pushing a nervous-looking forehand into the net while serving for the win at 5-4 in the fourth set. No, instead, let’s examine what happened on a break point at 4-all in the fifth, with Alcaraz leading, Ramos-Vinolas serving, the crowd holding its breath and the stadium clock already reading 4 hours, 31 minutes. On the sixth of what would become 15 strokes, Alcaraz tried one of his feathery drop shots. Ramos-Vinolas got to it and responded by sending the ball off the baseline, forcing Alcaraz to race to his left to flick a no-look backhand lob. Ramos-Vinolas replied with an overhead to that corner, sending Alcaraz well wide of the doubles alley for another defensive backhand lob. Vinolas-Ramos guided this one to the opposite corner, pushing Alcaraz to his forehand side, so he sprinted, then slid almost into the splits, to retrieve that one. Yet another lob produced yet another overhead, again back to Alcaraz’s left, and this time he came up with a down-the-line backhand passing shot that Ramos-Vinola volleyed into the net. Some in the crowd were on their feet during that series of exchanges; all were by the end. Ramos-Vinola chucked his racket into the net. Alcaraz raised his arms and index fingers to the sky – a gesture for “No. 1,” a spot expected of him one day, perhaps soon –while in the stands, his coach, 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, pointed to his temples. Alcaraz wouldn’t cede another point.
“It’s great that the people talk about you, think that I’m going to be No. 1 in the world, but of course, it’s a little bit of pressure on me,” Alcaraz said. “But I try not to think about it.”
He had trailed by two sets to one. He had been a point from defeat. He had been down 3-0 in the fifth set. He made 74 unforced errors. He accumulated 31 break points but frittered away 23 of them. None of that mattered. On a day he was not at his best – never quite able to show off all of the shot-making that carried him to a tour-high four titles and a 30-3 record in 2022, and that earlier this month made him the first player ever to beat Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the same clay-court tournament – he thought and hustled his way through the finish line.

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