Carlos Alcaraz wanted to discover China, a territory still unexplored by the Murcian and which these days has completely given itself over to him, the latest cry. “The truth is that everything I am experiencing in my first time here is amazing. The training sessions are full, the energy that is breathed, the affection that I perceive when I jump onto the track and they applaud me… It’s crazy,” describes the Spaniard after dismounting Lorenzo Musetti by a double 6-2 (in 1h 20m) and thus earning a place in the quarterfinals that he will play today (not before 1:00 p.m., Movistar) against the Norwegian Casper Ruud. These are days of noise and entertainment for him, now and not too long ago there appears a 16-year-old boy who was still forging himself in the challengers and low-profile tournaments. Just go back to 2019, the last time the Asian event was held.
So, Alcaraz had not yet broken out of his shell and, of course, had not yet paraded on any first-class stage. That season he won his only prize at the ITF organized in Denia (Alicante), although his name was already very popular and he had shared rallies with Roger Federer on the Wimbledon carpet. Something big was coming. His was postponed, because in March a virus from China spread throughout the world and the tennis player’s emergence into the elite would have to be delayed one more year. Meanwhile, the country’s authorities imposed the well-known restrictions and the last three editions of the Beijing tournament had to be canceled. The interval represented a before and after.
Today, the Austrian Dominic Thiem, the last champion, is a spectral competitor who barely fights to get into the intermediate car of the circuit and the Japanese Naomi Osaka, the last winner, has not set foot on a track for more than a year after having given gave birth to a girl and having suffered many ups and downs during the journey that preceded motherhood. Of course, there was no sign of the Russian Mirra Andreeva, who, at 16 years and 155 days old, had already become the youngest winner of a match in the Beijing tournament. There were also no signs in the heights of the Polish Iga Swiatek, without any trophy on the record, nor the Kazakh Elena Rybakina, another of today’s references, had yet achieved a single victory in the Grand Slams.
Then the Australian Ashleigh Barty ruled with an iron fist and in the ATP the hierarchy of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer was practically incontestable. The three giants commanded the world list and the middle generation used to hit the wall again and again. Today, the Swiss is already watching the action from the sidelines and the Mallorcan, absent since January, fights for one last time that right now is a mystery. Only Novak Djokovic stands the test of time, a kind of sports immortal who at that time made the rubber in the race for history and who from the 16 greats he had at that time has gone on to the splendid record of 24. Almost everything It was different. China, the symbolic geography of the turn.
Where is Peng Shuai?
Today, the present is fundamentally two. One, Balkan, selects and rests; the other, Alcaraz, imposes his proposal and sets the pace. In fact, he is the first player to reach 60 wins this season and registers almost 90% wins. He now sights Ruud, reduced to the previous three. “He will probably be a little tired, but who knows,” says the Spaniard, referring to the almost three hours spent by his rival against Tomás Etcheverry. “But Casper is very tough, so I will have to give my best again. It will be difficult, but at the same time fun,” adds the number two, who has reduced Djokovic’s lead in the rankings by 90 points (11,545-8,625) thanks to the two wins achieved in recent days.
China expresses the change, with one exception. Tennis has returned to the country, but the whereabouts of Peng Shuai, the 37-year-old player who in November 2021 reported having been a victim of sexual abuse by the then vice prime minister, Zhang Gaoli, remains a mystery. Beyond the double appearance that she made at the time – a video conference with the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, and an interview in The Team agreed with the Chinese government –, there is no public trace of her, although the director of the women’s circuit (WTA), the American Steve Simon, assured in May that they know where the tennis player is and that she is “safe.”
The women’s circuit resigned after learning of the complaint about the millions generated by playing there, a gold fishing ground that displayed up to nine tournaments under more than substantial agreements, with a prize pool of more than 30 million. However, the WTA has landed again in the Far East despite speculation and criticism.
In addition to Beijing, the calendar includes events in Zhengzhou, Guangzhou, Ningbo, Hong Kong and Nanchang this fall. “We have received assurances that the players and our staff operating in China They will be safe and secure while in the country. We take this commitment seriously and will hold all parties responsible,” they say from the WTA, while there are those who slip that the maneuver a couple of years ago could have been carried out in front of the gallery, taking advantage of the impact of the pandemic.
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