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By Richard Pagliaro | @TennisNow | Friday, June 7, 2024


Carlos Alcaraz edged new No. 1 Jannik Sinner in five sets to reach the Roland Garros final, becoming the youngest man to reach a major final on all three surfaces.

Photo credit: Tim Goode/Getty

Pressing palms in the hallway minutes before squaring off in a Roland Garros semifinal showdown, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner share a rivalry rooted in respect.

Disarmed in the opening set, Alcaraz stayed in touching distance to force a fifth.

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Unleashing all-court attack, Alcaraz fought into his maiden Roland Garros final with a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 conquest of Sinner that spanned four hours, nine minutes.

"Well, it was a really close match. I think really high level of tennis," Alcaraz said. "Really high intensity of everything. I'm going to say the key was that I took my chances that Jannik brought to me in the match.

"The break points that I had probably I took it -- the first time that we were played the breakpoints, I took it. In the fifth set, the first breakpoint that I had, I took it. Yeah, I'm going to say that was the key, because in the fifth set he had really good chances to break my serve as well, a lot of 40-All. So I'm going to say that that was the key."

Broken four times in his first five service games, Alcaraz reset, reloaded and revved up his boldest tennis when it mattered most, battling into his third career Grand Slam final. Alcaraz cracked 15 of his 65 winners in the final set and hit 26 more winners overall than Sinner.

"The toughest matches that I have played in my short career have been against Jannik," Alcaraz said. "The US Open 2022, this one, that means the great player that Jannik is, the team that he has as well, the great work he puts in every day. 

"I hope to play many, many more matches like this against Jannik."

The 21-year-old Spaniard showed superb closing skills raising his five-set record to 10-1 and hitting his way into history.

A champion for all surfaces, Alcaraz is the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam on all three surfaces and second-youngest French Open men’s finalist since king of clay Rafael Nadal in 2005-2007.

It’s the second time Alcaraz roared back from two sets to one down against Sinner to win a five-set thriller following his 2022 US Open quarterfinal conquest.

Though Australian Open champion Sinner led for much of the match, he seemed to battle hand and forearm cramps at one point and wasn’t moving quite as smoothly around the court as Alcaraz in the latter stages.

"I think it was a great match. For sure the sets he won he played better in the important points, no?" Sinner told the media in Paris after dropping to 6-8 in five-setters. "I think that was the key. Obviously disappointed how it ended, but, you know, it's part of my growing and the process. Thinking back, before the tournament reaching this point, I'm obviously very happy. In the other way, I'm disappointed about the match today.

"Now I'm just keep looking forward to improve, to trying to do my best I can, and then we see what I can do in the future here in this tournament."

Two-time Slam champion Alcaraz snapped Sinner’s 12-match Grand Slam win streak, denying the House of Gucci Ambassador’s bid to become the second Italian man in the Open Era to reach the French Open final—and first since Adriano Panatta captured the 1976 crown.

Still, Sinner can celebrate his best Roland Garros result and will make history as the first Italian man to hold the world No. 1 ranking when the new ATP rankings are released on Monday.

Wimbledon winner Alcaraz will face either two-time French Open finalist Casper Ruud or Olympic gold-medal champion Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s final. Alcaraz is 4-0 vs. Ruud and 4-5 against Zverev, including a loss to the big-serving German at the Australian Open last January, when coach Juan Carlos Ferrero was absent recovering from knee surgery.

In a semifinal showdown between Grand Slam champions, the shotmaking from both sides created electricity spiking roars throughout Court Chatrier.

Three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten, Hall of Famer and shoe icon Stan Smith, Roland Garros champion Mary Pierce, Mansour Bahrami and die-hard tennis fan Ben Stiller were among the fans packing Court Philippe Chatrier for today’s first semifinal. It was the youngest major men’s semifinal since the 2008 US Open when a 21-year-old Andy Murray topped a 22-year-old Rafael Nadal to reach the Flushing Meadows final.

Running down an Alcaraz dropper and responding with an angled reply, Sinner reached break point. Then the Italian’s defense, including a flicked full-stretch forehand, helped him coax the netted error for the opening game.

Sinner streaked through a love hold confirming the break for 2-0. Sinner smacked a backhand bolt down the line for another break point. Then the lanky Italian handcuffed Alcaraz with a crackling return, rattling out a framed reply and second straight break for a 3-0 lead after 13 minutes.

Immaculate on serve, Sinner swept through eight straight service points powering ahead 4-0.

Though Alcaraz made 17 of his first 21 serves, it took him 21 minutes to finally hold serve. That hold sparked Alcaraz, who went toe-to-toe with his foe forcing a backhand error to reclaim one of the breaks. Alcaraz had dropped serve just 11 times in five tournament wins, but when he sailed a forehand, Sinner scored his third break for 5-2.

On his third set point, Sinner sealed the 40-minute opener on the strength of three service breaks.

The Wimbledon winner could not find a first serve—or control his backhand—in the first game of the second set. Alcaraz spit up five unforced errors in the first eight points to surrender serve for the fourth time. A frustrated Alcaraz glanced at coach Juan Carlos Ferrero and pointed to the baseline as if signaling Sinner is landing lines and I have no remedy.

Despite hitting a pair of double faults in the next game, Sinner slid a forehand down the line backing up the break for a 6-2, 2-0 lead.

In his first sloppy stretch, Sinner double faulted to face triple break point in the fourth game. Coach Darren Cahill stood and clapped urging his charge to reset. When Alcaraz curled a crosscourt forehand behind the second seed, he broke back for 2-all—the first time he was even all day.

As the set progressed, Alcaraz was stepping into the court with more confidence, while Sinner was sliding a bit and spraying more shots than he had in the opening set. Inexplicably playing a mid-court forehand right back at Alcaraz, Sinner paid the price as Alcaraz broke again—his fourth straight game—for 4-2.

Firing a forehand swing volley helped a now free-flowing Alcaraz seal his fifth straight game.

After dropping eight of the first 10 games, an amped-up Alcaraz sped through six of the next seven games to level the semifinal after 90 minutes.

Moving smoothly and mixing in finesse with forehand rockets, Alcaraz continued elevating. The sliding Spaniard sent a dipping backhand pass to break for a 2-1 third-set lead.

The Australian Open champion broke back, but serving at 2-all Sinner seemed to struggle with hand and forearm cramps. Continuously flexing his left hand and fingers between points as if trying to shake free crippling cramps, Sinner seemed to be struggling. Still, he fended off three break points in a physical 11-minute hold for a 3-2 third-set lead.

Reading his opponent’s serve and volley, Sinner spun a backhand return pass breaking with a clenched fist for 4-2.

Thumping a 124 mph ace down the middle brought Sinner double set point. When Alcaraz flagged a forehand into the middle of the net, the second seed was up two sets to one after two hours, 28 minutes.

The semifinal debutant had the lead but would his hand hold up to close?

Alcaraz needed an emotional lift and created one. Running right, Alcaraz rocketed a forehand strike down the line that dislodged a puff of red dust when it landed. That superb strike helped him take a 4-3 fourth-set lead and prompted the wave from fired up French Open fans on the ensuing changeover.

Conjuring creativity, Alcaraz lifted a lob that landed inside the baseline and sent Sinner nearly crashing into the back wall to run it down only for the Spaniard to dab a drop volley winner. A forehand error gave Alcaraz set point.

Spreading the court with a forehand, Alcaraz banged a backhand winner crosscourt and walked to his seat with a clenched fist raised high in the sky pumped for his second five-setter vs. Sinner and first since their classic 2022 US Open quarterfinal.

The 2022 US Open champion carried a 9-1 career record in five-setters into the decider, while Sinner, who seemed to be over the hand and forearm issues that pained him earlier, was 6-7 when going the five-set distance.

The closing burst on the ball is a major Alcaraz asset.

The Wimbledon winner showed it with a sliding backhand flick pass inside the sideline for break point. On the next point, Alcaraz pieced the baseline with a forehand then flattened out a flame-thrower forehand winner scoring his sixth break for 2-0. 

That strike was truly the dagger that staggered Sinner.

A confident Alcaraz issued answers from all areas of the court. Faking the serve-and-volley, Alcaraz sifted a soft forehand drop shot winner, backing up the break for 3-0.

Both champions can rip head-turning strikes on the run. Sinner slid a backhand winner around the net post to reach love-30 on the Spaniard’s serve in the fifth game. Some rib-rocking body serves and a gutsy forehand dropper that tripod on the tape helped Alcaraz hold for 4-1.

On his second match point, Alcaraz sailed a forehand down the line to drop to deuce.

Smoking a heavy serve for a third match point, Alcaraz closed this show. Alcaraz belted a backhand down the line, provoking an errant forehand to wrap a four hour, nine minute saga.

It was Alcaraz’s fifth win in nine meetings against friendly rival Sinner—and hopefully a prelude to many major battles to come.


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