PARIS – A few walks through the formal gardens at the French Open on Wednesday set off a thrill.
First, Alexander Zverev saved one match point and won five sets on the main Philip Chatier court. After that, Carlos Alcaraz did the same on Simon Matthew’s court, covered in red clay like some men never covered at Roland Garros because he was in the corner and seemingly over.
The latest-looking French Open has improved to the point where old hands can use guided tours to avoid running on new walls or newly planted bushes, certainly not losing the ability to test your combat players to the limit.
The old guard, led by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, has so far found it relatively easy in the men’s competition, but the leaders of the new wave are on edge. To break
In the first round on Tuesday night, the fourth-seeded, champion in Monte Carlo and finalist in Rome, Lorenzo Mussetti, a young Italian with a beautiful one-handed backhand, had to come down from two sets to get rid of it. Enough for Uffizi but whose legs still don’t feel strong enough for the toughness of a five-of-five-set match.
For the digital age of social media highlights and entertainment overloads, there are calls for the best-of-five-total scrap from those who deem it inappropriate.
But the format favors good players in the long run, and the long-form magic certainly did a lot in the second round on Wednesday. Third-seeded Zverev fought back with Sebastian Beaz for 3 hours and 36 minutes before defeating Baez 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 in the 10th game of the final set after saving a big and bold match point.
“All you have to do is find a way,” said Zverev, who is 8-1 in a five-set match at Roland Garros.
“Some players, the greats, Rafa, Novak and Roger, always find their way through the most difficult moments,” he added. “That is why they are what they are. I’ll never be that level, but I’m just trying to get closer to them. “
Sixth-ranked Alcaraz battled his Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos Vinolas for 4 hours and 34 minutes, which was the same match as in the tournament so far.
Matthew Court is nicknamed the Greenhouse because it was built in a botanical garden and is surrounded by exotic plants. But Funhouse may have been more appropriate in this case, as Alcaraz extended his rally speed and running skills beyond the possibilities of a rally that reminded Nadal of his left-handed, scissor-kicking youth.
That was not Alcaraj’s best match of 2022. Far from it But as he found a way to go 6-1, 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4, he certainly looked shiny.
“These are the kind of matches that help you grow your career,” said Alcaraz, a 19-year-old who started the season as a future star but has since become a current star.
He has won four titles on the hard courts, including the Miami Open and the Clever Barcelona Open and the Madrid Open. He beat Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back in Madrid before taking a break for Paris and resting.
For all his self-evident talent, reaching out as one of the favorite players in his teenage Grand Slam tournament is a challenge. And Alcaraz looked tighter on Wednesday than ever: forcing issues with his groundstrokes and drop shots rather than waiting for prime time.
Meanwhile, Ramos, a 34-year-old lefthander, skillfully changed the pace and tactics by taking the yen for the soil. Ramos looks like a lightweight – slightly underweight – but his full cut, inside-out forehand is a heavyweight punch and has overwhelmed Alcaraz over time.
But after carefully and cleverly building the platform for the inconvenience, Ramos could not complete the construction work. Serving for a 5-4 victory in the fourth set, he had a match point and tightened his forehand to hit the tape instead of clearing the net.
After two points, Alcaraz leveled the set at 5-5 and dominated the tiebreaker after failing to convert three set points in the 12th game.
The youngster could clearly see the speed, but Ramos, to his credit, refused to buy into the line of reasoning, taking a 3-0 lead in the fifth set and Alcaraz roaring 3-3 with his rare offense mix. And protection.
They re-traded the server’s break, but Alcaraz did not finish running and digging. With Ramos serving again, Alcaraz made his brightest defense of the match: stretching to hit a forehand in a corner and then running across the ground to extend the rally again, which Ramos now understandably missed. Volley in the net.