Teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz battled until the early hours of Tuesday morning to come through a five-set classic against Marin Cilic at the US Open. After Rafael Nadal’s premature exit at the hands of Frances Tiafoe, Alcaraz is the only Spaniard left and he has the wishes of the 22-time Grand Slam champion behind him.
Nadal’s loss to Tiafoe on Monday night cranked up the pressure amped up on Alcaraz as the only Spanish competitor remaining. His clash with Cilic, who won the US Open title back in 2014, pushed him all the way and came within a whisker of becoming the latest ever finish at Flushing Meadows.
Alcaraz converted match point at 2:23am local time, meaning just four more minutes would have overtaken Kei Nishikori’s win over Milos Raonic eight years ago. Having shown tremendous speed, skill and determination to prevail over Cilic, Alcaraz praised the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium and took a brief look towards his upcoming quarter-final clash with Jannik Sinner.
“Honestly, I don’t know how I did it,” he told Amazon Prime Video. “I believed in myself all the time. It was very tough at the start of the fifth, Marin played unbelievable but I believe in myself. The support today was crazy, without you guys it wouldn’t be possible to win this match tonight.
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“I would say the crowd gave me 100 per cent of my energy in the fifth set. It was unbelievable. In the fourth set I had a lot of opportunities which I missed. It was tough for me to stay strong mentally in the fifth but the energy I received today made me win.
“I played a couple of times against [Sinner], he’s a great player and very tough. I lost twice in two months so I will have to be ready for this battle. He’s an unbelievable player so it’s going to be very tough for me.”
Before Alcaraz and Cilic got underway, Nadal threw backing behind his countryman and wished him the best of luck despite the ongoing battle to emerge from the tournament as world No 1. “I’ve not watched [Alcaraz] play so far,” he admitted after tasting defeat against Tiafoe. “But he is in round four so I suppose he is playing well. He’s the last Spanish player in the draw and with a very good chance to win a first Grand Slam and to become No 1. I wish him good luck.”
Defeat for Cilic means that a new Grand Slam champion will be crowned at Flushing Meadows this year, one way or another. Nick Kyrgios, Casper Ruud and Sinner are among the other favourites with Alcaraz the highest-ranked competitor remaining, having entered the tournament as the third seed.
Alcaraz will take the number one spot for the first time in his career if he wins the title or loses in the final to anyone other than Ruud, who is also in contention. Nadal can also emerge from the year’s final Grand Slam as world No 1 if neither Alcaraz nor Ruud manage to make the final which, based on recent performances, appears unlikely.
“I played a bad match,” added Nadal. “[Tiafoe] played a good match. At the end… that’s it. I was not able to keep the high level long enough, he took the ball too many times very early. I need to go back, fix things and I don’t know when I’m gonna comeback. When I feel ready mentally to compete again… I will do it.”