Archives for February 2022

Carlos Alcaraz wins Rio title: ‘I feel I’m close to the top players’

Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal

Way back when, Rafael Nadal won his first tournament in 2004 in Sopot, he was only 18 years old. The next year, he won 11 titles, including at Roland Garros.

Another young player, Carlos Alcaraz, just won Rio de Janeiro, smacking Diego Schwartzman 6-4, 6-2. Yes, Schwartzman was tired, as he had played some long matches, but Alcaraz was so concentrated and mashed the ball. Not only is he fast, but he can change it up. His coaches have helped a lot over the past year. He returns pretty good, and he thinks hard, on the court. He also knocked down Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini. Amazing, Alcaraz is already ranked No. 20

“To be in the top 20 was a goal for me at the end of the year (2021) and to be able to do that at the beginning is amazing,” Alcaraz said. “I feel I’m close to the top players. I’ve already beaten some Top 10 players. With the level I showed today and the feelings I have, I think that I’m ready to be among those kinds of players. When I’ve played against the top players, apart from against Rafa [at the 2021 Madrid Masters 1000 tournament], I was close. I think I have the level to play against the top players. I’m getting closer every tournament that I’m playing.”

Alcaraz was tired, so this week he pulled out in Acapulco.

One year ago, Rublev won the 2021 Rotterdam, when he upset Stefano Tsitsipas. Last week, Rublev was very rugged, and he can hustle. The No. 7 Rublev raised the bar. He has reached 14 finals, winning nine, and he lost five. The good news is that last year, he reached the final at the ATP Masters 1000s, at Monte Carlo and Cincinnati. But the so-so news is that if he wants to snap into the top 5, win an ATP 1000, or a Grand Slam, he must pick it up and change a few things, like when he rushes into the net, and when he returns. He has to be focused 100 percent.

“I had to increase my level otherwise I would have had no chance against Felix,” Rublev said. “I was thinking it would go to three sets. But somehow I was able to raise my level and in the end it was tough. All the battles I have had with Felix since the first time back in 2018 have had drama. All have had at least one set that went 7-6 and now he is one of the greatest players. Especially this season, he is on top now.”

Norrie gets two tiebreaks over Opelka
In Delray Beach, Cameron Norrie edged Reilly Opelka 7-6(1) 7-6(4). Norrie did not start well this year, but finally, he turned it around. He was thoughtful, and his shots around on the court. The lefty looks very fast, and he can grab matches at the hardcourt events. That week, his first serve was excellent, and his forehand was fatal. The Brit is back in the game. 

“I’m able to dictate the play from the beginning of the point,” Norrie said.
“I’m definitely more aggressive than I was when I [first] came on tour. I had a tendency to be too passive in the bigger moments and I’ve changed that a little bit. I’ve been the one being the protagonist, the one executing the short balls and moving the other guy.”

Reilly Opelka edged all of them, winning Dallas Open

Reilly Opelka

The American men had all four players in the Dallas semis, which has been unusual over the past five years. But the US guys are gradually improving. Maybe this year, they can go deep at the ATP 1000s. As Marcos Giron said at the Grand Slams, they can go higher and higher.

Reilly Opelka won all four matches and took his third title. He won all six tiebreaks at Dallas out of eight sets he played. Beating John Isner in the semis, he won the longest set tiebreak in ATP history, 24-22.

He has a massive first and second serves. Also, when stroking from the baseline, he can hit it like a storm. The downside is that he is 6-foot-11, so it is difficult to sprint left and right.

Without question, he practices a lot and he also competes in the tournaments nearly every week, so it is both good, and it could be bad.

When you are winning, you will want to play all the time. But, if you are losing early, it is a good idea to not play and really think about what you need to improve. He is ranked No. 20. Last summer, he reached the final at the ATP 1000 for the first time in Canada, upsetting Stefanos Tsitsipas before he lost against current No. 2, Daniil Medvedev.

Clearly, to go into the top 5, Opelka would go jump so high and find a path to beat Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Medvedev.

In the quarters, Giron beat his good friend, Taylor Fritz, another tiebreak among many 7-6(3) in the third. On Saturday, in the semis, he went down 7-6(5) in the third versus the 20-year-old Jenson Brooksby.

Giron had a good week, and the former UCLA collegian is growing more consistent, aggressive and thoughtful. He is currently ranked No. 64.

Here is my recent story about Giron.

Last year, there were no U.S. men in the top 20. Now, there are two top 20s. That is critical, but can they reach the top 10 this year? Isner has done that before, but the rest have yet to do it. The No. 17 Taylor Fritz has a shot because he has improved a decent amount over the past year, and the No. 45 Brooksby is understanding what it takes to move up. The No. 34 Frances Tiafoe can be up and down, but he is more careful. Another young person, the No. 43 Sebastian Korda, is finding his solution.

In 2003, Andy Roddick won the US Open, which is a very long time ago. Back then, before the 2000s, a bunch of American guys grabbed the Slams in the 1990s, like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. They were locked in, most of the time. And we are not just talking about the serves, but they were super consistent and could play with a lot of variety.

In the next nine months, the US men will attempt to upset the big boys. Perhaps. As Giron said: “Anything can happen.”