A Memorable Turin Debut Keeps Getting Better For Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Giampiero Sposito/FITP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 17, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Carlos Alcaraz’s debut at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin this week has been a memorable one – and it keeps getting better.

On Friday afternoon, Alcaraz finished first in the Red Group following his 6-4, 6-4 win over previously unbeaten Daniil Medvedev inside the Pala Alpitour.

The World No. 2 Alcaraz (2-1) will play defending six-time champion and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic (2-1) in the semifinal round on Saturday evening, while World No. 3 Medvedev (2-1), who won the 2020 year-end title, will oppose Green Group winner Jannik Sinner (3-0) in the other last four match during the afternoon session.

With Alcaraz’s win determining which two players would advance out of the group, it meant Friday evening’s match between World No. 7 Alexander Zverev (1-1) and World No. 5 Andrey Rublev (0-2) would be for pride, money and points. Zverev came in with a 5-3 head-to-head advantage but Rublev had won all three meetings this season. As it happened, Zverev won 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 41 minutes to end his season on a winning note.

Looking back, Alcaraz won seven consecutive points in the first set, breaking Medvedev’s at love to go ahead 4-3. It proved to be a turning point from which the 20-year-old Spaniard Alcaraz took control. He showed his on-court versatility by countering Medvedev’s deep, behind-the-baseline groundstroke returns with a mixture of serve-and-volleys and drop shots. It worked out just fine.

Alcaraz hit 20 winners and converted 16 of 21 points at the net. He outpointed Medvedev 61-51 during their 80-minute match to beat the Russian for the third time in 2023. It improved his overall win-loss record for this season to 65-11.

“I think the most important thing that I did today was to stay strong mentally,” Alcaraz said in his on-court interview. “There were a few games on my serve that I was struggling a bit. His return game is amazing and he puts so much pressure on your serve, so I think to stay calm and stay strong mentally in those moments was the key to give myself a chance to win this match.”

Later, during his post-match press conference, Alcaraz allowed himself to look ahead to facing Djokovic. “I’m dreaming about winning this tournament. Why not?” he said. “But I have to play my best first in semifinal. I’m going to face one of the best players in history. I’m going to face the best player in the world right now. I will have to put my best game if I want to beat him.”

Meanwhile, Medvedev said in his press conference that in important moments, he “was not good enough and [Carlos] was a little bit better than me.

“Kind of feel strange because 4-4 is considered an easy score, but I felt like I had couple of opportunities, got maybe a little bit unlucky. He played one unreal game in first set on my serve. Second set I played a bad game on my serve.

“Honestly, tough to say much. But looking forward for tomorrow.”

Around the Pala Alpitour

On Wednesday, India’s Rohan Bopanna became the oldest player to win a match in Nitto ATP Finals tournament history. So, what’s a 43-year-old to do for an encore? How about lifting his team into the knockout semifinals? That’s what he and teammate Matthew Ebden of Australia did on Friday afternoon.

With a berth in Saturday’s last four riding on the outcome of their final Red Group match against No. 2 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, the third-seeded Indian/Aussie duo won 6-4, 7-6 (5) for their 40th victory of the season. Their 82-minute win improved their group record to 2-1 and eliminated their rivals, who were semifinalists last year but finished this week at 1-2 and the season at 45-21. It was the sixth time the two teams had met this season. Each won three times.

Bopanna and Ebden, who formed as a team at the beginning of this season and won titles in Doha and Indian Wells, combined to hit eight aces, won 88 percent of their first-serve points and faced no break points. They outpointed Koolhof and Skupski 67-53.

The other team advancing from the Red Group is defending champions Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, who are 3-0. The No. 6 seeds finished Group play Friday evening against No. 8 seeds Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler, both from Australia, who fell to 0-3. Ram and Salisbury won their eighth straight match in Turin, 5-7, 6-1, 10-2, over the winless Australians.

On Saturday, Bopanna and Ebden (2-1) will face the Green Group winner, No. 5 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina (3-0), in the day session. Then, Ram and Salisbury will oppose Green Group runner-up Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France (2-1), in the evening session.

By the numbers

With his third victory of the week at the Nitto ATP Finals, Jannik Sinner has become the third player on Tour this season to record 60 wins, joining Daniil Medvedev (66) and Carlos Alcaraz (65).

“Quotable …”

“It’s a huge privilege to be here. It’s in Italy. It’s obviously a little bit of pressure more, but it is kind of a positive pressure. I like to be in this situation.

“I think until now, in this moment, I managed it really well. Hopefully I can keep going like this. I think the crowd, they give me a lot of strength, especially when I’m struggling on the court a little bit. It’s just nice to step on the court.”

Jannik Sinner of Italy, during his post-match news conference, on what it’s like playing before a home crowd.