June 16th, 2024

Carlos Alcaraz overcomes a shaky forehand and a qualifier to reach the French Open’s third round

By Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press on May 29, 2024.

PARIS (AP) – Carlos Alcaraz’s forehand was giving him a hard time at the French Open. So was the 176th-ranked qualifier across the net. After ceding the third set and trailing by a break in the fourth, Alcaraz needed to get in gear – and he did, taking the last five games to beat Jesper de Jong 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 Wednesday in the second round.

Heavy rain from early in the day caused the postponement of 23 singles matches, so Alcaraz was lucky to get the chance to compete, and advance, under the retractable roof at Court Philippe Chatrier.

Still, he could not quite shake de Jong, a 23-year-old from the Netherlands with a flashy game who was participating in just his second Grand Slam main draw. Alcaraz, a former No. 1 who is seeded No. 3, has won two major championships and is still just 21.

But Alcaraz has been dealing with a bothersome right arm that limited his preparation for Roland Garros and, he said, made him afraid to hit his big forehand with full force. He has been wearing a white sleeve on that forearm and did so again Wednesday; perhaps it helped things, although he ended up with 26 unforced errors on the forehand side, more than half of his 47 total miscues.

So while he usually takes pride in being an entertainer, and not just an athlete, he needed to recalibrate that a bit.

“I saw that I need to forget about putting on a show. “¦ It was difficult for me today,” Alcaraz said. “I was in trouble a little bit, but really happy to do it at the end.”

Only, however, after de Jong became the lowest-ranked man to win a set against Alcaraz at a major tournament, then broke to go ahead 2-1 in the fourth. Alcaraz would not drop a game the rest of the way in the 3-hour, 9-minute match.

“I prefer to not spend not too much time on the court,” said Alcaraz, who removed his arm sleeve and donned a black windbreaker as de Jong exited toward the locker room to a standing ovation. “But every match is different.”

Showers halted play on the outside courts after about 45 minutes at the beginning of the day. Only Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen can be covered, so matches at only those two places were able to proceed.

The winners included Sofia Kenin, the champion at the Australian Open in 2020 and runner-up at the French Open later that year; and a pair of two-time major finalists, Ons Jabeur and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Jabeur advanced to the third round by defeating Camila Osorio 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, and Tsitsipas moved on with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4 victory over Daniel Altmaier.

Kenin arrived at the French Open with just a 4-13 record this season and now is into the third round at Roland Garros after eliminating 21st-seeded Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-3.

“Her game annihilates my strong points. She takes the ball early. She changes directions. She returns quite well,” Garcia said. “That actually makes her difficult to outplay.”

Kenin is a 25-year-old based in Florida whose career was knocked off track by a series of health issues. She’s now at No. 56 in the rankings after once being as high as No. 4, and she hadn’t even participated in the French Open since 2021.

“I mean, I love red clay. I feel like it suits my game. I try to use it to my advantage, and I love the courts here. Especially playing on Philippe Chatrier was even more special and memorable. I feel like I’m super comfortable on that court,” Kenin said. “I’ve got some amazing memories there, so I try to use that to my advantage.”

Over the years, she dealt at various times with a lingering foot injury, a bout with COVID-19 and a right ankle problem.

Her results at the sport’s most important events have not been up to her standards: She bowed out in the first or second round at six of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments. And Kenin hadn’t played particularly well anywhere this year, with seven losses in opening matches.

“This is the place where you want everything to come together,” she said. “At the start of the year, I wasn’t playing as I am playing right now. I feel like I’m definitely more fitter, doing the right things from my end: fitness, diet, everything. Obviously it’s paying off.”

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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