Alcaraz tops Sinner in latest U.S. Open finish ever

2022 US Open - Day 10
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NEW YORK — This was a match that would not end. Should not end, one might say. Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, two of the brightest young stars of men’s tennis, traded shots of the highest quality and countless momentum swings across five sterling sets for 5 hours, 15 minutes until Alcaraz finally won the last point at 2:50 a.m., the latest finish in U.S. Open history.

It was “only” a quarterfinal, no trophy at stake, yet was as taut a thriller as this year’s tournament has produced or, likely, will, a tour de force of big cuts on the full sprint and plenty of guts, concluding as a 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3 victory for the No. 3-seeded Alcaraz, a 19-year-old from Spain.

“Honestly,” said Alcaraz, who saved a match point in the fourth set, “I still don’t know how I did it.”

He also used words such as “unbelievable” and “amazing.” No hyperbole there.

“This one will hurt for quite a while,” said No. 11 Sinner, a 21-year-old from Italy. “But tomorrow, I will wake up – or today, I will wake up – trying to somehow (take away) only the positives.”

When the 382nd, and final, point was over, Sinner and Alcaraz hugged each other. A handshake at the net would not suffice.

Alcaraz reached his first Grand Slam semifinal and is the youngest man to get that far at the U.S. Open since Pete Sampras won the title at 19 in 1990.

Alcaraz has a chance to move up to No. 1 in the rankings next week, and will face No. 22 Frances Tiafoe of the United States on Friday. The other men’s semifinal that day is No. 5 Casper Ruud of Norway vs. No. 27 Karen Khachanov of Russia.

This match began Wednesday evening at about 9:35 p.m. and easily surpassed the previous mark for latest time of finish at the U.S. Open, which had been 2:26 a.m., shared by three matches.

Alcaraz has been working overtime in New York: His five-set victory over 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic in the fourth round wrapped up at 2:23 a.m. on Tuesday.

“I always say you have to believe in yourself all the time,” Alcaraz said. “The hope is the last thing that you lose.”

After his much more mundane, three-set victory over Andrey Rublev in a quarterfinal that finished at about 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Tiafoe was rather prescient when asked about Alcaraz and Sinner.

“I just hope they play a marathon match, super-long match,” Tiafoe said with a smile, “and they get really tired come Friday.”

Not only did this one run late, it ran long: Only a 5-hour, 26-minute match between Stefan Edberg and Michael Chang in 1992 took more time at the U.S. Open.

Asked afterward how he was feeling physically out there against Sinner, Alcaraz began with a quick response: “I felt great.”

Then he paused, and smiled, before continuing: “Well, probably at the end of the match, I was (at) my end.”

The clock already was past 2 a.m. when Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who was the runner-up at the French Open and bowed out in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Tuesday, spoke for anyone paying attention to Alcaraz vs. Sinner when she tweeted: “this match is insane. I leave at 6am for the airport but I refuse to sleep and miss this. (hash)Sinner (hash)Alcaraz”

Still, even with thousands and thousands of empty seats, there were enough who remained on hand to make as much noise as a full house at times. Both players would wave their rackets or motion with their arms to encourage the fans to get even louder. And, naturally, the fans would oblige.

“Could have finished in three sets. Could have finished in four sets. Could have finished in five sets,” Sinner said. “We both wanted to win, for sure. We both tried our best.”

It was as back-and-forth as could be. The highlights were too many to list. Just one: Alcaraz won one point after extending a rally by wrapping his racket behind his back to make contact with the ball. One more: Alcaraz fell onto his backside, then sprung up to race to smack a backhand that won that point.

After taking the first set, Alcaraz held five set points in the second – but Sinner saved them all.

In the third, Alcaraz broke to lead 6-5 and served for that set – but Sinner broke to force a tiebreaker that he dominated.

In the fourth, it was Sinner who served for the match at 5-4, even coming within a point of victory there – but Alcaraz broke and wound up pushing what already was a masterpiece to a fifth.

And in the fifth, after another memorable shot – a running backhand passing winner that sailed just past Sinner’s outstretched arm – earned a break point and a chance for a 5-3 lead, Alcaraz put a finger to his ear.

He would convert that, then serve it out. When the end did arrive, Alcaraz dropped to his back, his chest heaving, and covered his face with his hand.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”