Alcaraz, Schwartzman Pull Double Duty To Reach Rio Final

Alcaraz seeking first ATP 500 title

Carlos Alcaraz completed an Italian job Saturday in Rio to reach his first ATP 500 final, beating Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini as he pulled double duty following a Friday rainout.

After an early start against the top-seeded Berrettini, the 18-year-old ended the night with a  6-2, 7-5 win over Fognini at the Rio Open presented by Claro

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"It means a lot to me," Alcaraz said post-match. "I surprised myself to be able to win two matches in a row in the same day. It's tough to win one match, two is even tougher."

After a dominant opening set, the Spaniard fell behind 1-4 in the second. As Fognini grew comfortable on Quadra Guga Kuerten, Alcaraz turned the tide by pinning him back with powerful hitting. He used two mini-runs of three games to avoid a third set as the clock approached 1 a.m. in Rio.

In one of the points of the match, Fognini flicked a desperation lob and followed it with down-the-line backhand to stay alive at 15/15 in the final game of the match. But once again, Alcaraz made sure any momentum was short-lived as he won the next three points to seal victory.

He'll face Diego Schwartzman for the first time as he seeks the biggest title of his young career. Alcaraz won his first ATP title, at the 250 level, on the clay of Umag in July.

"I'm really focussed on the final," Alcaraz previewed. "I know that it's going to be at really tough final against Diego. He's playing well and he plays really good tennis on clay... I'm really excited to play."

After five-and-a-half hours on court Saturday, Schwartzman is through to his second ATP Tour final in as many weeks. The Argentine backed up a marathon win over Pablo Andujar in the afternoon with a two-hour win over countryman Francisco Cerundolo in the evening to reach the championship match.

Schwartzman’s semi-final could have gone even longer, but the third seed saved three set points in the opening stanza to pave the way for a much-needed straight-set win. He can look forward to a good night’s sleep after a 7-6(4), 6-3 win over Cerundolo on Quadra Guga Kuerten. 

“Unbelievable. The effort I did today with my team, not just me. Also Francisco, both of us, and now Fognini and Alcaraz,” Schwartzman reflected.

“Yesterday we were here all day long. We went to the hotel at 10 p.m. yesterday, coming back in the morning today to play one match, now the other one. I don’t know how I did it, I really don’t understand how I did it, but I did. So I’m very happy and of course playing with this crowd in Brazil, for an Argentinian player it’s unbelievable.”

Down an early break, Schwartzman saved five break points to stay within touching distance at 4-3 in the first. He saved a first set point on serve to get to 5-4, then saved two more on the return to level the set and ultimately force a tie-break.

“I think he had too many chances at the beginning of the match to win the first set,” Schwartzman said post-match. “I think the first set, for both of us, it was very important. 

“At the end [of the set], I was just trying to think, ‘Hey, he didn’t play a final at an ATP 500 tournament, so maybe the nerves are there'… I took the chance. We are here to take the chances, and I did great today.”

After winning the last three points of the tie-break, he carried that momentum into set two, taking an early lead. Cerundolo won consecutive love games to turn 3-1 to 3-3, but Schwartzman again raised his level late as he finished the match with his third and fourth breaks of the evening.

Looking ahead to the title match against Alcaraz or Fognini, the Argentine said he expects a “crazy final” against an in-form opponent who will mix aggressive play with “tricky shots, drop shots.”

“I’m in a good position right now,” Schwartzman said prior to the second semi-final. “I already played, I’m in the final, so let’s see who wins, and I’ll try to do my best tomorrow.”