Sinner Stuns Alcaraz In China Open Semifinals By Playing Better When It Mattered Most

Jannik Sinner (photo: China Open/VCG)

BEIJING/WASHINGTON, October 3, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Jannik Sinner has always enjoyed facing Carlos Alcaraz, and their blockbuster semifinal at the ATP 500 China Open in Beijing Tuesday night — the seventh time they have met — was a memorable one for the seventh-ranked, rising young Italian star from South Tyrol.

In their third meeting this year, the No. 6 seed Sinner gutted out a 72-minute first set that ended in a tiebreaker which he never trailed, then coasted for a 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory over the World No. 2 and top seed from Spain.

The win gave Sinner a 4-3 advantage in his budding career head-to-head against Alcaraz — he’s the first player to register four tour-level wins against the Spaniard — and it lifted him into the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings at No. 4 for the first time. It’s just the second time an Italian player has been ranked since the ATP Rankings were introduced in 1973, and first since Adriano Panatta in 1976.

“For sure in the very top [of the big matches I’ve played],” Sinner said during his on-court interview, in describing his victory over Alcaraz. “I would say every match against him is very tough. We always show great respect, we both play great. When we play against each other, we try to stay on our limits.”

In Wednesday’s final, Sinner will face No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, as he attempts to win his third tour-level title of the season and ninth ATP singles crown overall. He is 0-6 lifetime against the Russian.

Sinner, who was appearing in his 20th tour-level semifinal (12-8) and 8th of the season (5-3), broke Alcaraz five times during their one-hour and 55-minute match on the Diamond Court at the National Tennis Centre. He hit 15 winners, saved seven of nine break points he faced and outpointed Alcaraz 75-63.

The triumph improved Sinner’s 2023 win-loss record to 48-13. Alcaraz, who was appearing in his 12th semifinal in 14 tournaments this season, fell to 61-8, including 9-4 against Top-10 competition. The 20-year-old Spaniard had not lost a set in his first three matches in Beijing.

“Today I played a little bit better in the important moments,” Sinner said. “In the second set, it was 6-1 but he had a lot of chances and I just tried to stay focused. And obviously the first set was a little more of a roller coaster and I tried to stay there mentally and obviously I’m very happy with the performance.”

Meanwhile, Medvedev and his long-time rival, Alexander Zverev of Germany, met for the fifth time this season — most on the ATP Tour — and 17th time overall Tuesday. By now, there are probably few secrets remaining between these two talented and highly-competitive Top 10 players. After all, Medvedev had won three of the four meetings in 2023 and came into their latest match with a 9-7 head-to-head lead.

Tied 7-7 on hard courts and with the Russian holding a 20-19 advantage in overall sets — not to mention that both players were appearing in their ATP Tour-leading 71st singles match of the season — the second-seeded Medvedev found the right stuff at the right time to beat No. 8 seed Zverev, 6-4, 6-3, to advance to his eighth tour-level final of the season.

With a personal-best five titles already owned this year, Medvedev will look to add another one against Sinner in Wednesday’s final. Medvedev has won 20 career singles titles in 20 different events.

“It’s an amazing, strong field, so it’s great to be in the final,” Medvedev said in his on-court interview. The 27-year-old World No. 3 has navigated his way to victories over Tommy Paul, Alex de Minaur, Ugo Humbert and Zverev, dropping just one set in Beijing. He’s now become only the third player in the Open Era of tennis to reach seven ATP event finals on hard courts in three or more seasons, after Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. So, he’s in some very good company.

“I’m really happy with my level,” added Medvedev, who won his tour-best 42nd hard-court match and is through to his 35th tour-level final. “Roof closed, different conditions today, much faster. Both of us are big servers so it came down to just a few opportunities and I managed to serve better when I had break points to save than he did.”

In garnering his 10th career victory over Zverev, one that was characterized by many lengthy rallies, Medvedev saved each of the four break points he faced (two in each set) and he took advantage of a late break against the German in the second set with a passing shot winner that proved huge. It was one of 20 winners on the day for Medvedev and helped to offset his 13 unforced errors. Zverev countered with just 10 winners and committed 20 unforced errors. The loss ended Zverev’s seven match winning streak, which began with his title run at Chengdu last week.

Top seeds advance to doubles final

Wednesday’s doubles final will be a matchup of the two top-seeded teams, No. 1 Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States versus No. 2 Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain.

During Tuesday’s semifinal round, Dodig and Krajicek defeated No. 4 seeds Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico, 4-6, 7-5, 10-6, while Koolhof and Skupski advanced with a 7-6 (3), 6-2 win over Russian duo Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev.

By the numbers

The five head-to-head meetings this year between Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are the most for any opponents on the ATP Tour this season.

“Quotable …”

“I think the execution went really well. Mostly trying to stay aggressive, because when he has a lot of time he he plays really good and really aggressive.”

Jannik Sinner of Italy, in describing his game plan against Carlos Alcaraz, during his on-court interview.