Alcaraz survives after a testing five sets against hungry Tiafoe

Carlos Alcaraz in Wimbledon 2024
Carlos Alcaraz in Wimbledon 2024 (PC: Wimbledon)

It’s not easy to wear the tag of defending champion and compete at The Championships with freedom. This fortnight at Wimbledon has seen Carlos Alcaraz and, also, even the winner of 24 Grand Slam titles, Novak Djokovic, find it hard to win matches.

On Friday evening, Carlos Alcaraz, easily the hottest property in men’s tennis, was take for a roller coaster ride by Frances Tiafoe in a four-hour epic. This was a match which Carlitos, as fans love to address him dearly, should have won with less effort. The heir apparent to Rafael Nadal as the King of Spain, at least in tennis, was teased and tormented by Tiafoe even as fans were anxious.

The show courts at the hallowed precincts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club are meant for genuine fans who have the money and contacts to buy tickets and the knowledge to cheer good tennis. At the same time, the Centre Court and Court 1 is also the venue to be seen, where the glitterati turn up to watch matches and clap, gently. That is part of the unwritten code of conduct for fans who enter Wimbledon.

You have to pardon some fans on Friday who may have clapped and cheered more lustily as Alcaraz versus Tiafoe was engrossing and energising. For two combatants to belt the tennis ball, produce big shots and keep going for nearly four hours minutes was riveting. While the fans love such high thrill and spill, if you ask the two tennis competitors what they had undergone on court, the story is different.

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Alcaraz came to Wimbledon, celebrated and cheered, as the defending champion while Tiafoe was dealing with injury concerns. In such a scenario, if Tiafoe could show such competitive spirit against the big man and still keep firing from the baseline and mid court, forehand and backhand, he was on a mission.

Just to jog the readers’ memory, in earlier matches as well this week, Tiafoe was showcasing his power well. The way he cranked up big serves, firing aces and potent second serves, he did not look worn out. Perhaps, it was that energy and enjoying the ambience of the big stage which saw him challenge and push Carlos Alcaraz almost to the cliff, before the Spaniard found an escape route.

Grit, guts and glory, this is how the two combatants were fighting in an arena which has witnessed may such battles in the past, from the wooden racquet era to the modern graphite racquet age. Tennis cannot change, really. The sport is the same, just that the tennis ball in use has been made heavier, the grass courts are different in nature and players can compete without being a serve-and-volley sultan.

If you were looking for the old-time romance of just serves and points ending fast, no, Alcaraz versus Tiafoe was different. This is modern tennis, longer points played, more on how fit the players are. Yes, Alcaraz is the Apha Male and he had to show it on Friday, once again. To be pushed hard by the World N0. 29 was serious stuff before Alcaraz slipped into what is known as “the zone” in tennis.

This young man from Spain has made it a habit of bringing out some sublime stuff in the fifth set. Alcaraz’s records speak, for tennis is a sport where too much emphasis on match stats and data rob the sport of romance. Yes, Alcaraz loves the pressure in a tight fifth set, what with his unforced errors earlier so uncharacteristic. The writing was on the wall. Alcaraz had to wake up, smell the coffee (not literally) and change gears, where the fifth set saw him lose only two games in the third-round battle. The final score was 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7.2), 6-2 in Alcaraz’s favour.

Carlos Alcaraz in action in Wimbledon 2024
Carlos Alcaraz in action in Wimbledon 2024 (PC: Wimbledon)

“Well, I think for me, (it) was a lot of up and downs in the match. Was a break up in the first set, then few mistakes in my game serves. Yeah, after that, played a really good second set. But then in the third set again, few mistakes in my game with serves,” said Alcaraz later at the press conference

“It was really important to stay there in the fourth set, for example, just to keep fighting, to keep trying to play better in the fourth set just to give myself the chance to be alive in the match,” he added.

Another impressive winner on Friday was Coco Gauff, as the American breezed past Britain’s Sonay Kartal in straight sets – 6-4, 6-0. Yes, Gauff is waiting for that big break in her career and a big title. The first set was competitive and tight for Gauff, against a qualifier. Yet, when the second set began, Coco Gauff had shifted gears swiftly to race into the Round of 16.

“I was a little bit nervous going in because I knew you guys (fans) would be (cheering) for her, which is totally understandable,” said the relieved American later. With this win, she has matched her best run at Wimbledon.

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