Every Week Presents New Challenges For Alcaraz, Swiatek In Their Pursuit of Excellence

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Rolex Shanghai Masters video)

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON, October 12, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Alcaraz still has confidence, ambition to chase Djokovic for year-end No. 1

While many didn’t see it coming, Carlos Alcaraz was knocked out of the Rolex Shanghai Masters by Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round on Wednesday, just the second time in 15 tournaments that the World No. 2 from Spain has failed to reach at least the quarterfinal round this season.

However, the 20-year-old Alcaraz from Murcia, who has won six titles this season – including two Masters 1000 crowns in Indian Wells and Madrid – has not lifted a champion’s trophy since winning Wimbledon in early July and has reached only one final, at Cincinnati in August.

In his two China tournaments, Alcaraz was a semifinalist in Beijing and reached the fourth round in Shanghai. His next scheduled event is the ATP 500 indoor hardcourt in Basel, Switzerland beginning Oct. 23, followed by the Rolex Paris Masters in Bercy, France on Oct. 30.

“It’s going to be tougher, if I want to be No. 1,” Alcaraz said during his final press conference in Shanghai following his 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 loss to Dimitrov Wednesday evening. “I have a few tournaments ahead, so I’ll try to do my best. I’ll try to, you know, win them, if I want to have a chance to end the year as No. 1. I don’t know it right now I lose a lot of opportunities to make it.”

Alcaraz leaves Shanghai trailing World No. 1 Novak Djokovic by 500 points in the ATP Live Race To Turin. The Nitto ATP Finals take place in Turin, Italy from Nov. 12-19.

Swiatek playing like a top-ranked player even if she isn’t ranked No. 1

Iga Swiatek may not be the No. 1-ranked women’s tennis player in the world at the moment. However, on Sunday, she sure played like one.

The talented, 22-year-old from Warsaw, Poland needed just 70 minutes to beat Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 6-2, 6-2, to win the WTA 1000 China Open in Beijing, her fifth WTA singles title of the season and sixth WTA 1000 title of her career. She becomes the first player since Serena Williams in 2014-15 to win five or more WTA singles titles in back-to-back seasons and the first player to achieve six WTA 1000 crowns before the age of 23, eclipsing the mark of Caroline Wozniacki‘s five.

Swiatek won 76 percent of her service points and nearly half of her return points in dismantling Samsonova, both with her serve and by utilizing a relentless attacking strategy. She converted all four of her break-point opportunities and did not face a break point on her serve. Swiatek outpointed her opponent 56-35.

Samsonova was appearing in her second WTA 1000 final and had advanced with an impressive 7-6 (7), 6-3 semifinal victory over No. 5 seed Elena Rybakina, her third Top-10 win of the season. However, she was unable to make a charge through Swiatek’s defense on Sunday. The Polish star committed just one unforced error.

“I think this is what she’s doing the best because this is the stress that she made to other players, that she doesn’t make unforced errors,” said Samsonova, who is 0-4 lifetime against Swiatek. “Every time you need to do something more. It’s not real what you feel, but she makes you feel like this. This is what I learned today.”

During the trophy ceremony, Swiatek thanked her team, whom she immediately hugged after securing championship point moments earlier. “We all know how hard it is sometimes,” she said. “I’m really happy I have your support no matter what. I don’t know what I would do without the people around me. I’m pretty grateful.”

En route to her 16th career title in her seventh final of 2023, Swiatek lost just one set – in the quarterfinal round against No. 9 seed Caroline Garcia – and she ended No. 3 seed Coco Gauff‘s 16-match winning streak with her 6-2, 6-3 victory over the American star in the semifinals. Since losing in the quarterfinals at Tokyo, Swiatek has strung together six straight victories.

Before the China Open final, Swiatek addressed a reporter’s question revealing why not being ranked No. 1 helps her play more freely. She said:

“I’m proud of myself and happy with the way I’ve played throughout the tournament. But I know my work isn’t done. I feel like I’m playing consistently throughout the entire season. I have already played many finals. I won’t treat it any differently. I try not to analyze it too much, but I feel freer when I go out on the court … I have more positive thought when I play. I also have a plan B if things don’t go well. Maybe not being No. 1 helps me with that.”

Passing shots

By the numbers

Along with winning the China Open in her Beijing debut, Iga Swiatek has also won titles at Roland Garros, Doha, Stuttgart and Warsaw earlier this year. With the WTA Finals in Cancun approaching at the end of the month, Swiatek has moved to within 630 points of World No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka, who was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Rybakina, and sets up a compelling duel for the year-end No. 1 ranking.

“Quotable …”

“You know, tennis is a very tough sport, but also at the same time you need to be quite intelligent to know what to do at the right time.”

Grigor Dimitov of Bulgaria, during his post-match press conference after defeating Carlos Alcaraz, on the importance of experience.