© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Carlos Alcaraz is seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time.

Sleeveless Alcaraz Races Into AO Second Round

Shapovalov needs two tie-breaks, four sets to advance

Carlos Alcaraz lived up to his status as a first-time Grand Slam seed with a dominant 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over Chilean qualifier Alejando Tabilo on Day 1 of the Australian Open Monday.

Strikingly dressed in a sleeveless shirt and all-red kit, the 18-year-old Spaniard’s first-strike tennis proved too much for Tabilo, who was making his second Grand Slam main-draw appearance. In his competitive debut for 2022, Alcaraz put his game and his physique on full display after an offseason of apparent improvement on both fronts.

”I felt really good,” he explained in his post-match presser. “I didn’t expect that this first match was going to be really good for me. I played a great level the first match of the season. Really good feelings… hope the next matches are going to be the same.”

It was a matchup between two players sitting at career-highs in the ATP Rankings, with Alcaraz at No. 31—matching his seed—and Tabilo at No. 135. And the match bore out that gap in the rankings, as Alcaraz comfortably advanced.

On Court 7 at Melbourne Park, the pair traded early breaks before the youngster went on a six-game tear to wrestle away control. The Spaniard’s ascent was built on his typically intense aggression from the baseline, but he masterfully mixed in touch and some well-placed returns in building the lead.

Alcaraz faced just one break point in the match, while breaking seven times in 16 chances of his own. The one-sided nature of the victory underlines his increasing comfort on hard courts.

”I’m starting to get more comfortable on hard court than on clay courts,” he shared. “I think the most tournaments of the year are on hard court, so you have to be ready.”

With his last match coming in his title run at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan in November, Alcaraz made the perfect start to what could be a big 2022 season. He enters the new campaign on the heels of a breakout year that also saw him reach the US Open quarter-finals, win his first ATP title (Umag) and break into the ATP’s Top 40 for the first time. Alcaraz started the 2021 season just inside the Top 150.

This season, his goals include reaching the Top 15 and playing in the Nitto ATP Finals.

“It’s a really good goal for me, but so difficult as well,” he told the press.”

In the top quarter of the Australian Open draw—a section ripe with opportunity due to the absence of Novak Djokovic—Alcaraz will take on Dusan Lajovic, who defeated Marton Fucsovics 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-1. Looking one step further, No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini looms as a potential third-round opponent.

Shapovalov Survives Djere Test
Two weeks after helping Canada win the 2022 ATP Cup, Denis Shapovalov survived an adventure-filled first-round matchup against Croatia’s Laslo Djere on Monday in Melbourne.

After being two points away from a fifth set, the Canadian advanced in four, 7-6(3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3). Djere had an opportunity to serve for both the first and fourth sets, but each time the No. 14 seed denied him in John Cain Arena.

The match looked secure with Shapovalov up 5-2 in the fourth, but Djere sparked to life, winning eight of nine points to get back on serve. The Canadian created a match point on the return at 4-5, but soon found himself down 6-5, needing a break just to stay in the set.

“I felt like the fourth set was slipping away from me after that set point,” Shapovalov said in his on-court interview, “but I’m very happy with the outcome.”

The opening set was its own rollercoaster. The No. 14 seed dropped serve in the match’s opening game and needed to save two set points to force the tie-break. It was one-way traffic from there, until Djere reasserted himself by winning the first three games of set three.

“He did a great dob to come back from two sets to none,” Shapovalov added. “He changed his tactics, tried to go for it more and was very tricky.”

In the end, using what he called the “Rafa mentality” of fighting for each point, the 22-year-old found just enough big forehands and big serves to avoid a fifth set. The victory marks his first Slam win under new coach Jamie Delgado.

Next up for the Canadian is South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon, who edged past Holger Rune 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

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