Carlos Alcaraz overcomes frustration to blast past Holger Rune and into last four | Wimbledon 2023

new balance

Throughout the opening set of the first major meeting between the two brightest young players in men’s tennis, Carlos Alcaraz’s growing frustration was palpable. He was struggling just a little with his backhand, his return of serve wasn’t penetrating quite as well as normal and Holger Rune chased down all of his mediocre drop shots. The world No 1 gestured regularly to his box and, at times, roared to the skies.

Yet even as he briefly failed to match up to his stratospheric standards, Alcaraz was still supreme. Every time he needed to call upon his best tennis on the decisive points, he found it with ease. The first Wimbledon men’s quarter-final match in the open era between two players younger than 21 had rightfully commanded immense hype. But, as Alcaraz defeated Rune 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon for the first time in his career, his performance underlined that for the moment he has no true rivals of his age.

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“It’s amazing for me,” Alcaraz said. “It’s been a dream since I started playing tennis – making good results in Wimbledon, such a beautiful tournament. I think I’m playing at a great level. Honestly, I didn’t expect to play at such a level on this surface. For me, it’s crazy.”

This meeting has been a long time coming. By now, Alcaraz and Rune have known each other for nearly half of their lives. Born just a week apart, the 20-year-olds first crossed paths aged 11 on the Tennis Europe tour as they began rising up the age groups. Two years later, they teamed up in doubles at the prestigious Les Petits As tournament for players aged under 14. Back in those early days, Alcaraz’s limited English meant their conversations were far from comprehensive. Still, the mutual respect was always there. From under-12s to the top of the ATP tour, they have led their age group throughout, even while taking distinctly different paths.

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As they stepped out on to Centre Court, the early exchanges were a testament to the complete games that both players have built; the flicking drop shots, sweet net play, fearsome returning and brilliant athleticism. Yet as the set wore on, Alcaraz’s frustration became clear. It was in part down to Rune, who played well throughout and, despite his reputation as a hothead, was a picture of calm and focus. Rune showed his progress on grass through his variety, effortlessly moving forward, irritating Alcaraz with his drop shots and winning the cat-and-mouse points normally patented by his opponent.

Holger Rune races to reach a forehand
Holger Rune shows flashes of his class but is ultimately overpowered. Photograph: Shi Tang/Getty Images

But Alcaraz’s game is several magnitudes bigger – his forehand was by far the biggest shot on the court – and the Spaniard was excellent when it mattered. Alcaraz faced a break point in his opening service game, a 15-30 deficit in the second and he trailed 0-30 in his final two service games. Each time Rune loomed, Alcaraz held him off. In the tie-break, it was Rune who blinked, attempting an ill-advised 115mph second serve and double-faulting at 3-3. By the end of the tie-break, Alcaraz found his magic. He dismounted with a glorious backhand return winner punctuated by an elongated roar.

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With the set under his belt, Alcaraz relaxed and played brilliant tennis until the end. As the drop shots began to land, his forehand flowed and he continually moved forward to the net. He simply outplayed his contemporary in the end. Alcaraz took a break in each of the final two sets, making zero unforced errors in the second set, and he served extremely well to seal a comfortable victory.

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Before last month Alcaraz had contested only two tournaments on grass in his career – two Wimbledon appearances. Rune, meanwhile, had never won a professional match on the surface. Both players began this grass-court season with the primary goal of gaining more experience on the surface. That they met in the quarter-finals is a reflection of their shared adaptability and talent.

At 20 years old, Rune remains ahead of the field with his varied game and fearlessness, and as he tries to close the gap with his contemporary, there will be many battles to come. For now, though, the youngest men’s No 1 remains on a path that few players in the history of tennis have tread. His win-loss record is now 45-4 this year, he has consolidated his rise tremendously in his sophomore season and is now one round away from his first Wimbledon final even as he continues to grow accustomed to the lawn beneath his feet. On Friday, the third best player in the world, Daniil Medvedev, awaits.

new balance

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