What led to Carlos Alcaraz’s challenges at the Australian Open?

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World No. 2, Carlos Alcaraz, experienced a setback in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, succumbing to the formidable No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev in a captivating four-set encounter, with scores of 6-1, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-4.

Despite entering the quarterfinal with a career-best performance in Melbourne, Alcaraz faced an early challenge as Zverev secured the first two sets.

The Spanish player staged a comeback in the third, breaking Zverev’s serve when he was on the verge of closing out the match at 5-3. 

However, Alcaraz couldn’t maintain his momentum in the fourth set, ultimately exiting the tournament in a hard-fought battle that lasted three hours and six minutes.

The following are three notable observations from this competitive match.

Zverev played lights-out tennis early

At times, it’s essential to acknowledge the opponent’s commendable performance. 

While much focus centered on the Spaniard’s potential to rival Novak Djokovic for a second Slam title, Zverev seized the opportunity and showcased what could be considered two of the most impressive sets of tennis witnessed in Melbourne in recent memory, possibly marking a personal best for him.

During the local broadcast, commentator Todd Woodbridge remarked that Zverev exhibited exceptional ball striking, arguably the best he had ever witnessed. 

In the initial two sets, Zverev made merely nine unforced errors, contrasting sharply with Alcaraz’s slow and almost lazy start, resulting in 22 unforced errors.

Zverev’s serving prowess reached remarkable heights as well. By the end of the second set, the German boasted an impressive 90% accuracy on his first serves, clinching 84% of those points. 

Even when faced with the challenge of second serves on four occasions, Zverev emerged victorious in all four points, leaving Alcaraz with minimal opportunities in his service games.

Seizing momentum early by breaking Alcaraz’s first service game without conceding a point, Zverev continued to dominate, unleashing winners and pushing Alcaraz into uncomfortable positions on the court.

 This unsettled the Spaniard, who only began to assert control over the match midway through the third set.

Alcaraz got off to a slow start

The ominous start for Alcaraz was evident when he double-faulted on the first service point of the match, drawing murmurs from the crowd at Rod Laver Arena. 

Unfortunately, his troubles continued as he was broken to love in his initial service game, committing three consecutive errors. In a matter of minutes, Zverev swiftly secured a 3-0 lead, setting the tone for the match.

Alcaraz’s performance had moments of notable struggle. Throughout the first hour of play, the world No. 2 attempted his usually-reliable drop shot on at least three occasions, but they proved ineffective, allowing Zverev ample time to track down and capitalize on the return.

The statistics from the first set reflected Alcaraz’s challenges—his first serve percentage was a mere 55%, and he won just 50% of the points when his first serve was in play. With only two winners and 11 unforced errors, it was a tough opening set for the Spaniard.

Entering the match, Alcaraz had a concerning record of 0-6 at majors when dropping the first two sets, including a previous loss to Zverev in the 2022 French Open quarterfinals. 

Although Zverev’s performance saw a noticeable decline in the third set, Alcaraz struggled to sustain a high level of play, ultimately succumbing in a closely contested fourth set.

Alcaraz is still just 20 years old

Despite his mature demeanor on the court, Carlos Alcaraz is still quite young. 

Winning his first Grand Slam just a few months after turning 19 might create expectations for him to seamlessly continue his success, following the paths of generational talents such as Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. 

However, it’s crucial to note that Federer claimed his first Slam at 21, and Djokovic at 20 when he triumphed in Melbourne in 2008.

Considering Djokovic won’t play indefinitely, there will be a void at the pinnacle of men’s tennis, offering opportunities for Alcaraz—a player with a powerful forehand and recognized as a pure hitter—to secure more Grand Slam victories. 

Alcaraz currently holds an advantage over peers like Zverev, Jannik Sinner, and Holger Rune, and as his career unfolds, he is likely to accumulate numerous successes. 

Nights like the one against Zverev in Melbourne will serve as valuable lessons—highlighting the importance of not conceding a two-set lead to the world’s best tennis players in a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

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