What Led to the Downfall of Defending Champion Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open?

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz US Open | Image credit: Google

NEW YORK — Ever since world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz clinched the Wimbledon championship by triumphing over Novak Djokovic in a thrilling five-set showdown back in July, tennis enthusiasts have eagerly anticipated a rematch on the courts of New York.

As the past two weeks unfolded, it appeared increasingly likely that these two titans of the sport would indeed cross paths again in the US Open final on Sunday. Djokovic took a significant step towards this anticipated rematch on Friday, securing his place in the final by defeating American Ben Shelton in straight sets with a scoreline of 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

However, the 2021 US Open victor, Daniil Medvedev, had different intentions and halted the 20-year-old’s quest for a consecutive US Open championship with a 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 triumph in Friday’s second semifinal. This win positioned Medvedev for a rematch of his own against Djokovic, whom he had bested two years ago to claim his inaugural and sole major title.

Carlos Alcaraz vs. Daniil Medvedev Highlights | 2023 US Open Semifinal | Credit:
US Open Tennis Championships

What went wrong with Carlos Alcaraz of Spain? Here are four conclusions from his departure.

The mental game was won by Medvedev.

During Friday’s match, the 27-year-old Russian displayed a composed and unflappable demeanor, maintaining his calm even during the closely contested third set. In contrast, Alcaraz, in between changeovers, exhibited a vibrant energy, frequently springing up early, moving around his side of the court, and hitting balls against the wall behind the baseline.

During the first set tiebreak, Alcaraz surprisingly struggled to keep his composure and nearly vented his frustration by contemplating smashing his racket onto the court. Reflecting on this moment after the match, Alcaraz admitted, “After reaching 3-all in the tiebreak, I lost my composure. I managed to make three or four points without maintaining control. My thinking went out the window. I completely lost my focus during that set, and it was really challenging for me to cope with it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bounce back in the second set.”

Any time Medvedev observed Alcaraz succumbing to his feelings, he pounced. That was part of the idea, just as much as his net game. “In sport, I believe the energy you have, the determination, that makes a huge difference,” Medvedev’s coach, Gilles Cervara, said following the game. Cervara claimed that while he instructed Medvedev to play aggressive, attacking tennis against Alcaraz, Medvedev’s attitude was equally crucial in pulling off the upset. Being aggressive is a component of the plan, according to Cervara. But your mental game is also a factor. It involves more than merely slamming the ball.

Alcaraz was unable to respond to Medvedev’s significantly better performance.

Medvedev had encountered Alcaraz twice earlier this year, and on both occasions, he couldn’t manage to win a single set. I faced Carlos and lost convincingly in our past meetings,” Medvedev admitted. “So, heading into today’s match, I understood that I needed to put forth my absolute best and elevate my game to an exceptional level. I pushed myself beyond my limits, performing even better than expected.”

Carlos Alcaraz concurred that Medvedev displayed superior craftiness on Friday. Alcaraz said,”I believed I was better at finding solutions when things weren’t going my way,” Alcaraz admitted. “However, after this match, I’m reevaluating my maturity in handling such high-pressure situations. I still have a lot to learn from this encounter.”

When asked to pinpoint what made Medvedev so challenging to counter this time, Alcaraz took a moment to reflect. “Medvedev’s shots had more speed today,” Alcaraz observed. “His forehand, in particular, was exceptional. While his previous use of slice in our matches allowed me to find my rhythm, today was different. He executed his shots with precision, made minimal errors, and served exceptionally well. He gave an excellent performance.

Medvedev played a terrific service game.

During the initial two sets, Medvedev demonstrated an impressive 88 percent accuracy on his first serves. In contrast, Carlos Alcaraz struggled with his reception, which put added pressure on him to maintain his service throughout the match. Alcaraz also missed out on seizing 8 out of 9 break point opportunities, while Medvedev successfully broke Alcaraz’s serve three times out of seven attempts.

“He’s among the top returners on the tour,” Alcaraz remarked. “It’s truly impressive how he can retrieve shots from the back of the court with both depth and power. Even when I attempted serve-and-volley, he consistently managed to make accurate passing shots, almost as if he was doing it effortlessly from his own home.”

The audience, along with Alcaraz himself, shared a moment of laughter in response to that humorous remark. Carlos Alcaraz then added, “To stay in a favorable position after serving, I need to consistently find the right serve and improve my serving overall. I’m determined to make those adjustments in the next match.”

Medvedev performed with no stress. Carlos Alcaraz gave in to his.

Since the start of media day on August 25, the central topic in discussions about this year’s men’s draw has revolved around the possibility of a Djokovic-Alcaraz rematch and the ultimate champion between the two. This narrative didn’t sit well with some of the other players.

“It’s certainly an intriguing storyline,” remarked Medvedev on that day. However, once the tournament begins, I hope that I or any other player can work to defeat them and avert their courtside confrontation.

Even though Medvedev is ranked as the third-best player in the world and has a remarkable track record in New York, including winning a title and an unbeaten record of 26-0 after taking the first set, he was considered the underdog in Friday’s match. Interestingly, he lived up to that role. On the contrary, Alcaraz was widely anticipated to secure the championship. Carlos Alcaraz had previously mentioned that he had evolved into a more mature player this year, better equipped to handle significant moments. However, following his loss to Medvedev, he acknowledged that there is still plenty of room for personal growth.

I’ll be reflecting on this loss for a while, Carlos Alcaraz remarked. I wish to gain knowledge from it. These kinds of competitions really aid in your improvement and development. I need to discuss how I can improve with Juan Carlos and my team.

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