Tennis scenarios don’t get much darker than the one Jannik Sinner found himself in last Sunday. He was preparing to serve against Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old who managed to serve 0-1, 0-40 on clay with a set deficit scrawled his name all men’s season, here he plays his sixth final of the year. Carlitos had taken many souls on his favorite surface, with a 27-3 clay record in 2022 to show it. But that moment turned out to be a turning point for the entire Croatia Open final. Sinner crawled out of that 0-40 hole and won 12 of the next 13 games to take the championship 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-1.
Alcaraz is still the most exciting prospect in tennis, but he’s lost the luster of utter invincibility he enjoyed this spring as he sliced through the hierarchy as convincingly as any kid since Rafael Nadal. Back then, he seemed to be outperforming the best players on the Tour – let alone his own age cohort – and setting a trajectory that looked almost competitive. He had beaten Sinner in both meetings in 2021, once at a Challenger and once at the Paris Masters. But Sinner has since emerged as the rival that once seemed unlikely: 21 months older, slightly taller and slower, more than capable of trading shots from the baseline, lacing up blurry winners on the run and the highlight reel to fill up.
While it lacks Alcaraz’s dynamic range – that ability to switch back and forth between the softest drop shot and the heaviest forehand – there is brutal efficiency in Sinners Tennis when it’s on. No one has taken Alcaraz’s powerful attacks as comfortably this season as a deadlocked Sinner, whose groundstroke technique is a little less loud and more direct than that of his foil. The quality and consistency of contact between the tennis ball and the sweetest point on Sinner’s strings is savant-like. While falling behind in sets two and three, Alcaraz shed errors and possibly felt the right ankle he had readjusted In his previous match, Sinner’s hitting just kept getting cuter and cuter. The best exchanges between these two have an unmistakable iron-sharpening quality, as each player deals something the other isn’t used to, forcing them to become bolder:
It’s Sinner’s second win over Alcaraz in a month; The last was an even more entertaining fourth round at Wimbledon. One theme has persisted through both games. Sinner defended all nine break points in the Croatia Open final. And going back to Wimbledon, in the last seven sets they’ve played, Carlos hasn’t managed to break Jannik once in 33 service games, which might be more coincidence than specific evidence of Sinner’s serve, but it’s worth it to keep an eye on. Another emerging trend? Alcaraz’ Ethnic Matchup Issues:
Alcaraz had won his first five finals on tour. Two weekends ago he lost his first to another promising 20-year-old Italian, Tuscany-born Lorenzo Musetti. With the defeat on Sunday against the South Tyrolean Sinner it is two in a row. The man can Beat Nadal and Djokovic in consecutive games, but perhaps not an opponent armed with a parmesan cheese sponsorship.