Defector

Carlos Alcaraz found his match in Jannik Sinner

Tennis scenarios don’t get much bleaker than the one Jannik Sinner found himself in last Sunday. He prepared to serve at 0-1 and 0-40 on clay against Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old who scratched his name throughout this men’s season, he is playing his sixth final here this year. Carlitos has taken many souls to his favorite surface and a 27-3 clay record in 2022 shows it. But this moment turned out to be the turning point of the entire Croatia Open final. Sinner dug out of that 0-40 hole to win 12 of the next 13 games to win the championship 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-1.

Alcaraz is still tennis’ most exciting prospect, but he’s lost the sheen of utter invincibility he enjoyed this spring, cutting through the hierarchy as convincingly as any kid since Rafael Nadal. At the time, he appeared to be outperforming the best players on the tour – let alone his own age cohort – and set a trajectory that looked almost like rivals. In 2021, he defeated Sinner in both meetings, once at the Challenger and once at the Paris Masters. But Sinner has since emerged as an opponent who once seemed unlikely: 21 months older, slightly bigger and slower, more than capable of trading punches from the baseline, lacing up blurry winners on the run and stuffing the lead.

While he lacks Alcaraz’s dynamic range—the ability to switch between the softest drop shot and the heaviest forehand—Sinner’s tennis has a brutal efficiency when it’s on. No one this season has absorbed Alcaraz’s powerful attacks as comfortably as the locked-in Sinner, whose groundstroke technique is a little less noisy, a little more straightforward than his. The quality and consistency of contact between the tennis ball and the sweet spot on the Sinner strings is a savant-like thing. While trailing in sets two and three, Alcaraz was throwing errors and possibly feeling his right ankle tuned again in his previous match, Sinner’s punch was getting sweeter and sweeter. The best exchanges between the two have an unmistakable iron-sharpen-iron quality, as each player offers something the other isn’t used to dealing with, forcing him to go bolder:

It is Sinner’s second win over Alcaraz in the span of a month; the last one was the even more entertaining fourth round at Wimbledon. One theme persisted in both matches. Sinner saved all nine break points in her Croatia Open final. And going back to Wimbledon, in the last seven sets they’ve played, Carlos has failed to break Jannik once in 33 service games, which may be more of a fluke than a concrete testament to Sinner’s serve, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. on. Another emerging trend? Ethnic problems of Alcaraz:

Alcaraz won his first five finals on tour. He lost his first two weekends ago, to another up-and-coming 20-year-old Italian born in Tuscany, Lorenzo Musetti. Sunday’s loss to Sinner, who hails from South Tyrol, makes it two in a row. A man can beat Nadal and Djokovic in successive bouts, but perhaps not an enemy armed with a Parmesan cheese sponsorship.

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