If the limit in Beijing was called Jannik Sinner, this time, in Shanghai, the one who puts the brakes on Carlos Alcaraz’s progress is Grigor Dimitrov, that treacherous dream that one day made the fan imagine that he could enjoy a continuation of Roger Federer; never the same as the Swiss, of course, but at least similar in cut: elegant, light, sophisticated one-handed backhand and weightless tennis. I had everything. And it has stayed very far away. Even so, the Bulgarian is a formidable tennis player who, despite the progressive decline and all the circumstances, is capable of offering brilliant moments such as the one he starred in this Wednesday in China, where he achieved an honorary medal by beating the Spaniard in three sets, until now practically infallible against time to land in the quarterfinals of the tournaments. He will not appear on the poster this time: 5-7, 6-2 and 6-4, after 2h 09m.
It seems that Alcaraz is having a long season. With 72 matches behind him, distributed in 15 tournaments to which is added the summer commitment of the Hopman Cup ––, the Murcian tennis player closes his first tour in Asia with a bad taste in his mouth, because in addition to not having been able to raise another trophy – he has six this season, more than any other player – the incentive of finishing the year at the top of the ranking. Mathematics says that regardless of what he does between now and the end of the year, it will be difficult for him to unseat Serbian Novak Djokovic. He did not have any luck in Beijing, surrendered there by the formidable Jannik Sinner, nor does he find any luck in this last scenario, witness to an unsuspected version of Dimitrov. He had defeated the Bulgarian in the three previous matches, in which he did not give up a single set. But this time he pays dearly for a bad day.
Alcaraz came along, expertly resolving the matches, but at the same time offering in some moments the symptoms of his legs beginning to weigh down and, above all, the mental demands of being the great one wherever he goes. The frenetic pace of spring and summer begins to take its toll on all the players and the Murcian is no stranger to erosion, even though he is 20 years old and has a marvelous body. He already needed a rest after the US Open and these weeks in China his expressiveness has not been what he is used to on good days. He succumbed to the Italian Sinner, who has mentally won the game for now, and after overcoming the thorny previous round against Daniel Evans through patience, he gave in in Shanghai to Dimitrov, who had noticed the formula in the British’s intervention.
“I knew how I had to play to beat him,” says the Bulgarian on the court. “I had to generate constant pressure and take him into uncomfortable positions. He doesn’t like to see himself in that situation,” adds the winner, who for moments remembers that young man who marveled at his emergence, as delicate as he was forceful in his hitting, and intelligent in his tactical approach to the Spaniard. I’m not in a hurry, he tells her. Let’s rally, go ahead. And despite taking a stab at the outcome of the first set, in which he served to win it and is left with honey on his lips thanks to two huge points from the Murcian, he gets up and counterattacks with the entire repertoire; that is, solidifying – only 3 errors in the second round – and taking the initiative, cutting and cutting (the Evans formula) and inverting with the forehand and opening the serve to put the ball where it is unreachable.
Only one ‘top-10′
Constantly in tow, Alcaraz leans. “I stood my ground, that was the main thing,” reasons Dimitrov, champion of the Masters Cup in 2017, now 19th on the ATP list. “I was very stable and served very well when I needed to,” adds the Bulgarian, who will face the Chilean Nicolás Jarry on Friday (6-3, 5-7 and 6-3 Diego Schwartzman) in a draw that few could imagine, since almost all the figures have already disappeared. It only resists a top-10, the Russian Andrey Rublev. Fatigue takes its toll on everyone, victims of an infernal calendar. Ruud and Sinner are not there, nor are Tsitsipas or Medvedev. And now Alcaraz falls, who had a great opportunity to reduce the gap on Djokovic.
“I must learn to maintain concentration at certain moments, like at the beginning of the second set [break en contra de entrada]. I made some mistakes that didn’t matter and he didn’t let me get back into the game. I have tried, but I have not been able to. “I have been defending all the time,” analyzes the player from El Palmar, who this season had reached the quarterfinals in all the tournaments except for Rome, where he was beaten in the third round by the Hungarian Fabian Marozsan; “I think I’m playing well, but I have to work more on some things if I want to beat the best. I have the feeling that he has played very well and that his level has been higher than in previous games. He hasn’t had a single up or down. “I thought he would come out differently than the first set, which was hard for him.”
With the European indoor tour on the horizon, Basel (from October 23 to 29) and then Paris-Bercy (from November 30 to 5), before facing the final event in the Masters Cup (from 12 to 20) , Alcaraz and his people return home with homework to do. With the fantasy and the punch intact, it is necessary to recover lucidity.
THE THRONE AT THE END OF THE YEAR IS COMPLICATED
Alcaraz went to Asia with the aim of increasing his chances of closing the course on top again, as he did last year. The math says he still has options, although they have narrowed after the setback in Shanghai. The Murcian aspired to have a bag of 1,500 points between Beijing and this last tournament, but he will leave the country with 280 in his pocket.
On Monday, Alcaraz will shine in the locker ranking 8,805 points, compared to Novak Djokovic’s 11,045. However, this is a fictitious income, since the Balkan player will be deducted further from the 2,100 points achieved the previous season for the Bercy final and the victory in the Turin Masters Cup. In fact, these last two weeks Nole has lost 750 points, having not defended those of Tel Aviv and Astana.
From now on, the Spaniard will have the opportunity to score up to 3,000 points in Basel, Bercy and Turin, in addition to continuing to get closer to the Serbian in the annual Race. In the list that reflects the most consistent of the year, Djokovic has an advantage of only 500 points (8,945-8,445).
Aside from the fight between the two, the Shanghai Masters presents a final stretch that is as unexpected as it is uncertain. In the quarterfinals that will be played between Thursday and Friday, several tennis players who first They did not enter the pools. The crosses are like this: Fabian Marozsan (91st) – Hubert Hurkacz (17th), Ben Shelton (20th) – Sebastian Korda (26th), Grigor Dimitrov (19th) – Nicolás Jarry (22nd) and Andrey Rublev (7th) – Ugo Humbert ( 34º).
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