Carlos Alcaraz Claims First Career ATP Tour Title in First Attempt at Croatia Open

Carlos Alcaraz  didn’t have to wait long to claim his first ATP Tour title…

The 18-year-old Spanish tennis player and #NextGenATP star, competing in his first-ever ATP Tour final, defeated former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet emphatically 6-2, 6-2 to triumph at the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag.

Carlos Alcaraz

In winning the title on Sunday evening in Umag, Alcaraz becomes the youngest champion in more than a decade.

Alcaraz is the youngest tour-level champion since 18-year-old Kei Nishikori emerged victorious in Delray Beach in 2008.

”It’s amazing. I have a lot of emotions. I’m really, really happy with this victory, this win, my first ATP [title],” Alcaraz said. “I’m going to enjoy this moment a lot.”

Alcaraz crushed a final forehand winner to close out his victory before launching a ball high into the Croatian night. Alcaraz’s coach and mentor, former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, rose from his seat and pumped his fist while sporting a wide smile across his face to celebrate his charge’s breakthrough. Shortly thereafter, the pair shared a warm embrace.

Carlos Alcaraz

This was an ironic matchup in Alcaraz’s first championship clash. Gasquet was also a highly regarded teenager, who claimed his first tour-level match win as a 15-year-old in 2002, more than a year before Alcaraz was born. The Frenchman remains the youngest match winner in ATP Tour history (since 1990).

Alcaraz has had plenty of eyes on him since bursting onto the ATP Tour in Rio de Janeiro in 2020, when he also won three ATP Challenger Tour titles. It was a matter of when, not if he would position himself for tour-level glory. And on his first opportunity, the teen showed no nerves. The seventh seed overwhelmed the 15-time ATP Tour titlist with impressive power and poise over one hour and 17 minutes.

“I had a lot of good moments in this tournament. I beat five great tennis players,” Alcaraz said. “I think that I grew up a lot in this tournament and I keep a lot of experience from this tournament. It’s going to be useful for the future.”

Gasquet has one of the most picturesque one-handed backhands of his generation and a great ability to mix up spins and speeds to trouble his opponents. But Alcaraz was never flustered against the veteran, unleashing one lethal strike after another. He broke the Frenchman’s serve four times without losing serve himself.

The 18-year-old set the tone early in the first set, cracking a rocket-like inside-in forehand for a winner to break for a 2-1 advantage, and he never looked back. Gasquet double faulted to give his younger opponent a break advantage in the second set, and he was never able to work his way back into the match.

The Frenchman earned three break points at 1-4 in the second set, but he was never able to control the rally on big points. Gasquet, who needed three hours and 11 minutes to win his semi-final against Daniel Altmaier on Saturday, was trying to win his first ATP Tour title since ’s-Hertogenbosch in 2018.

“It was tough for me to play [with] full intensity. I had a tough match yesterday. It was tough, and especially with a guy like Carlos, who is playing really fast with a lot of energy and spin,” Gasquet said. “He’s playing unbelievable. He’s only 18 and of course he has a great future and I just couldn’t play at his level and his intensity. That was the key of the match and he didn’t lose a point. He played well, very solid. He’s a great player.”

Alcaraz is the youngest Spaniard to win an ATP Tour title since countryman Rafael Nadal claimed his first trophy in Sopot in 2004. Nadal was just eight days younger that day than Alcaraz is today.

Rafael Nadal to Make Debut at Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

Rafael Nadal is gearing up for hard-court season…

The 35-year-old Spanish tennis star will return to competition later this month by making his debut at the Citi Open in Washington.

Rafael Nadal

Organizers of the hard-court tournament have announced that the 20-time Grand Slam champion is in the field for the July 31 to August 8 event that serves as a US Open tuneup.

Nadal has not played since his loss to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the French Open last month.

He decided to sit out Wimbledon, which ends Sunday, and the Tokyo Olympics, which open July 23, saying his body needed time to rest and recover after the clay-court season.

Other players entered in the Citi Open include Wimbledon semifinalists Denis Shapovalov and Hubert Hurkacz, who beat Roger Federer on Wednesday.

Wimbledon quarterfinalists Felix Auger-Aliassime and Karen Khachanov also are entered.

The tournament says Rock Creek Park Tennis Center will be allowed to have spectators at 50% of capacity. Last year’s Citi Open was canceled because of the pandemic.

Rafael Nadal Defeats Diego Schwartzman to Reach French Open Semifinals

Rafael Nadal’s streak may have ended, but he’s still extending other records at the French Open.

The 35-year-old Spanish tennis star, the King of Clay, saw his 36-set winning streak end at Roland Garros on Wednesday, but he battled through to a record-extending 14th semifinal at the tournament.

Rafael Nadal

The 13-time champion improved to a 105-2 match record at the clay-court Grand Slam following a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Argentine 10th seed Diego Schwartzman in two hours and 45 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Nadal, who is bidding to capture a record 21st major crown, lost the final three games of the second set in front of 5,000 spectators, but regrouped in the third set and from a 3-4 deficit put his foot down to win nine straight games, and 20 of 21 service points in a row.

“I started badly in the second set, then I was able to come back,” said Nadal. “But at 4-4, returning with the wind, I played a bad game and hit a double fault in the next game. I needed to play more aggressively and I did so throughout the rest of the match. I won an important match today against a tough opponent. I was able to find a way to play my best tennis in the moments that I really needed to.”

He will next challenge World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the 2016 champion with 18 major trophies who beat ninth-seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini, in Friday’s semi-finals.

Nadal trails Djokovic 28-29 in their legendary ATP Head2Head series, but Nadal won their last match in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final in Rome.

Nadal has compiled a 23-3 match record on the season, which also includes the Barcelona Open title (d. Tsitsipas). He is through to his 35th Grand Slam semifinal and is 26-0 once he reaches the Roland Garros semifinals.

Pablo Andujar Comes Back from Two-Sets Down to Upset Dominic Thiem in French Open First Round

Pablo Andujar is celebrating a massive upset…

The 35-year-old Spanish tennis player defeated reigning US Open champion and two-time French Open finalist Dominic Thiem 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round.

Pablo Andujar

Andujar, ranked 68th in the workd, came back from two sets down to claim the Roland Garros win against the fourth-seeded Austrian.

It marked the first time in eight appearances at the clay-court Grand Slam that Thiem lost his opening match.

Andujar also defeated Roger Federer in Geneva earlier this month. It’s the first time in his career that Andujar has come back to win after losing the opening two sets.

Thiem, who lost the 2018 and 2019 finals to Rafael Nadal, dropped to 11-9 in five-set matches.

Rafael Nadal Ends Up on the Same Half of French Open Draw as Novak Djokovic & Roger Federer

It’s the (bad) luck of the draw for Rafael Nadal

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star, the reigning French Open champion, has ended up in the same half of the Roland Garros men’s field in the draw as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, meaning no more than one of them can reach the final.

Rafael Nadal

The Big Three top the leaderboard for Grand Slam men’s singles titles. Federer and Nadal head to Roland Garros, where play begins Sunday, tied with 20, while Djokovic has 18. No one else has more than 14.

Nadal, the King of Clay, beat Djokovic in straight sets in the 2020 final for his record-extending 13th championship on the red clay of Paris, but if they meet again this time, it would be in the semifinals.

Nadal is ranked and seeded No. 3 — the seedings adhere strictly to the ATP rankings, so the Spaniard’s unprecedented success in Paris is irrelevant — so he could have wound up on either side of the bracket but was placed in No. 1 Djokovic’s half.

So was Federer, whose record for most weeks atop the ATP rankings recently was broken by Djokovic. Federer is seeded eighth after playing only three matches over the past 15 months because of two operations on his right knee and could meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals.

The other possible men’s quarterfinal on their side is Nadal vs. No. 7 Andrey Rublev.

On the other side of the draw, the potential quarterfinals are No. 2 Daniil Medvedev vs. No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 4 Dominic Thiem vs. No. 6 Alexander Zverev.

Medvedev is a two-time Grand Slam finalist but is 0-4 for his French Open career. Thiem won last year’s US Open and twice has been the runner-up in Paris.

This is the first time that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have been in the same half of a Grand Slam main draw, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Rafael Nadal Defeats Novak Djokovic to Claim 10th Italian Open Title

Make than 10 for Rafael Nadal

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star defeated Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 to earn a record-extending 10th Italian Open title on Sunday.

Rafael Nadal

With whipping forehands that produced an average of 54 revolutions per second — to Djokovic’s 45 — Nadal’s biggest weapon was in top form.

“I have been playing better and better with my forehand the last couple of weeks, getting to the confidence point,” Nadal said. “That’s a huge improvement for me, very important shot. Especially on clay, it [gives] me confidence.”

The title reestablished Nadal as the overwhelming favorite for the French Open, where he’ll be aiming for his 14th title starting in two weeks.

But Nadal preferred to focus on his achievement in Rome — at least for the moment.

“To have this trophy in my hands for the 10th time is something hard to believe,” Nadal said, recalling how he won his first title at the Foro Italico in 2005 as an 18-year-old, when he beat Guillermo Coria in a match lasting more than five hours.

“Now, 16 years later, to play in the final again is incredible,” Nadal said in Italian during the trophy presentation. “It’s difficult to describe. Without a doubt this is one of the most important places in my career.”

Three forehand winners helped Nadal produce the decisive break in the third set, when Djokovic’s energy level appeared to dip.

The top-ranked Djokovic spent nearly five hours on court Saturday, when he had to rally for a rain-delayed quarterfinal victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas before winning another three-setter over local favorite Lorenzo Sonego in the semifinals.

Nadal played only once Saturday, beating Reilly Opelka in 1½ hours.

“He managed to break my serve and played better. That’s it,” Djokovic said. “I had my shot to win it, but wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t feel fatigue. Actually, I was very happy with the way I felt on the court. I could have gone for another few hours.”

It was the 57th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic, which is the most matches between two men in the Open era. It was their ninth meeting in Rome, where they have played more than anywhere else.

Djokovic now holds a slim edge in the all-time series 29-28, while Nadal holds a 6-3 advantage in Rome overall and 4-2 in Rome finals.

Rafael Nadal Defeats Reilly Opelka to Reach Italian Open Men’s Final

Rafael Nadal is hoping to extend his record…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star, who has won the Italian Open a record nine times, will seek his tenth title on Sunday.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal ended the surprise clay-court run of big-serving American Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4 in their semifinal match on Saturday.

“I played the match that I had to play,” Nadal said. “I had two breaks [in] two sets. That’s a positive thing for me. [Being] in the final again here means a lot.”

A day earlier, Nadal snapped a three game losing streak against Alexander Zverev in straight sets.

“In terms of preparation for Roland Garros, I consider the job done,” Nadal said. “Tomorrow is not at all preparation. … [It’s] a final, an important one, and I want to be competitive.”

Nadal will play World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the men’s final. Nadal and the Serbian player have met an Open-era record 56 times, with Djokovic leading the series 29-27. Their previous meeting came in last year’s French Open final, where Nadal won in straight sets. It will be the sixth time they meet in the Rome final, with Nadal holding a 3-2 edge.

“Definitely my biggest rival of all time,” Djokovic said. “Even after all we have been through in our careers, there is still this excitement when we have to face each other. That’s going to be the case as long as we play each other on this level.”

Djokovic has five titles at the Foro Italico to Nadal’s nine.

Rafael Nadal Snaps Losing Streak Against Alexander Zverev to Advance to Italian Open Semifinals

Rafael Nadal’s skid is over…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star ended a run of three straight losses to Alexander Zverev with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win to reach the Italian Open semifinals on Friday.

Rafael Nadal

Zverev beat Nadal in straight sets at the same stage in Madrid a week ago and their latest meeting was also one-sided.

Nadal raced to 4-0 in the first set and saved all eight break points he faced in the second.

“I played more solid than Madrid. Conditions are different,” Nadal said, alluding to the fact that the high-altitude of the Spanish capital allowed Zverev to dominate more with his serve. “Here are little bit more normal conditions. I was able to control a little bit more.”

Nadal, aiming for a record-extending 10th Rome title, will next face big-serving American Reilly Opelka, who reached his first Masters semifinals by edging Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6 (2).

Rafael Nadal Outlasts Stefanos Tsitsipas to Win Record-Extending 12th Barcelona Open Title

Rafael Nadal has persevered to continue his winning ways on clay…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star saved one championship point on Sunday to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5 and collect a record-extending 12th Barcelona Open trophy.

Rafael Nadal

The top seed was one point from defeat at 4-5, 30/40 in the decider and he carried the momentum from that moment to win three straight games and overcome the Monte-Carlo champion after three hours and 38 minutes.

The championship match was the longest best-of-three-set ATP Tour final since statistics started being tracked in 1991.

Rafael Nadal

This is the second tournament where Nadal has captured 12 or more titles. The 13-time Roland Garros (French Open) champion, who failed to convert two championship points at 5-4 in the second set, will return to No. 2 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday.

“I think I never played a final like this in this tournament, so it means a lot to me against a player like him, [after what] he achieved in Monte-Carlo and [that he reached] the final here without losing a set,” Nadal said. “It is an important victory for me. I think I have been increasing my level during the whole week and this victory confirms it. That’s important for today.

“To have the trophy with me here at home means a lot, but at the same time for the future.”

Carlos Alcaraz Among ESPN’s ’21 Under 21′ Tennis Players to Watch in 2021

Carlos Alcaraz is among the phenoms to watch this year…

ESPN has announced tennis’ 21 under 21 for 2021, with the 17-year-old Spanish tennis player among the sport’s rising stars making the grade.

Carlos Alcaraz

Despite the circumstances of the 2020 season, Alcaraz managed to move up 350 spots the rankings by year’s end, moving from No. 491 to No. 141, even reaching a career-high of No. 136 in October.

He started the year with back-to-back titles on the ITF Futures tour and was granted a wild card into the Rio Open in February. And the then-16-year-old made the most of his ATP Tour level debut, upsetting former World No. 17 Albert Ramos-Viñolas in 3 hours, 36 minutes in the opening round to become the first player born in 2003 to win a match and the youngest match winner since 2013. Alcaraz called the victory the high point of his season.

Following the restart of the season in August, Alcaraz went 20-4 in ATP Challenger events and won three titles at Trieste, Barcelona and Alicante, as well as playing in the final at Cordenons. He was named the ATP‘s Newcomer of the Year and is the youngest player in the top 600.

But Alcaraz, who idolizes fellow countryman Rafael Nadal, has even bigger goals for 2021. He hopes to make his first main draw appearance at a major in Australia in February and then play in all of the Grand Slams. As for his ranking? He’s hoping to make another big push in the new year.

“I want to finish the year in the top 50,” he said.

But Alcaraz isn’t the only Latinx tennis player to make the list…

Canada’s Leylah Fernandez completed her high school studies in the spring during the tour stoppage.

The 18-year-old half-Ecuadorian tennis player made her major main draw debut at the Australian Open in January — just a year removed from winning the junior title — but it was what she did in the weeks following the event that raised tennis fans’ eyebrows.

After losing in the first round in Melbourne, Fernandez scored her first win over a top-10 player (Belinda Bencic) while representing Canada in the Fed Cup (now known as the Billie Jean King Cup) in Switzerland. Later that month, she won six matches in seven days as a wild card qualifier in the Mexican Open, rolling into the final, where she ultimately lost to Heather Watson. The following week, she advanced to the quarterfinals at the Monterrey Open, defeating 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the second round.

Fernandez made a second-round appearance at the US Open and advanced to the third round of the French Open, where she took a 5-1 first-set lead over Petra Kvitova before the two-time major champion came back to win.

Fernandez thinks her 2021 will be even more successful. Her plan is to reach the top 10 by the end of the year.

Thiago Seyboth Wild wasn’t exactly the favorite entering the Chile Open last February after cracking the top 200 for the first time. But having notched one of the biggest wins of his career the week prior at the Rio Open in 3 hours, 49 minutes — the longest match ever in tournament history — over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and taking World No. 32 Borna Ćorić to three sets the next round, the then-19-year old Brazilian tennis player was flying high entering the event.

What he did over the course of the week in Santiago was even more impressive.

Seyboth Wild knocked off three seeds en route to the title, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to win an ATP event and the youngest Brazilian champion in the Open era.

He found mixed results after the restart, losing in the first round of the US Open and not making it past qualifying at the French Open. But he made a finals appearance at a Challenger event in Aix-en-Provence, which lifted him to a career-high No. 106 in the rankings.

Seyboth Wild hopes to build off what he achieved in 2020 in the new year, although he says he focused more on some of the small things during the preseason.

Here’s the complete list in alphabetical order:

Carlos Alcaraz
Age: 17
Ranking: 141
Country: Spain
Career highlights: Winner of three ATP Challenger titles and three ITF Futures titles; Won his ATP main draw debut at the 2020 Rio Open

Bianca Andreescu
Age: 20
Ranking: 7
Country: Canada
Career highlights: Champion, 2019 US Open, 2019 Indian Wells and 2019 Canadian Open

Amanda Anisimova
Age: 19
Ranking: 30
Country: USA
Career highlights: Semifinals, 2019 French Open; Champion, 2019 Copa Colsanitas

Felix Auger-Aliassime
Age: 20
Ranking: 21 (77 in doubles)
Country: Canada
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 US Open; Six-time ATP finalist; Doubles champion, 2020 Paris Masters 

Leylah Fernandez
Age: 18
Ranking: 88
Country: Canada
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 French Open; Finalist, 2020 Mexican Open

Hugo Gaston
Age: 20
Ranking: 162
Country: France
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 French Open

Coco Gauff
Age: 16
Ranking: 48 (45 in doubles)
Country: USA
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2019 Wimbledon and 2020 Australian Open; Doubles quarterfinals, 2020 Australian Open; Champion, 2019 Linz Open; Doubles champion, 2019 Washington Open and 2019 Luxembourg Open

Varvara Gracheva
Age: 20
Ranking: 94
Country: Russia
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Seven ITF titles 

Kaja Juvan
Age: 20
Ranking: 104
Country: Slovenia
Career highlights: Second round, 2019 Wimbledon, 2020 US Open, 2020 French Open; Seven ITF titles 

Sebastian Korda
Age: 20
Ranking: 118
Country: USA
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 French Open; One title on ATP Challenger Tour 

Marta Kostyuk
Age: 18
Ranking: 99 (112 in doubles)
Country: Ukraine
Career highlights: Third round, 2018 Australian Open, 2020 US Open; Three ITF singles titles, two ITF doubles titles 

Ann Li
Age: 20
Ranking: 98
Country: USA
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Three ITF titles 

Caty McNally
Age: 19
Ranking: 121 (42 in doubles)
Country: USA
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Doubles quarterfinals, 2020 Australian Open; Doubles champion, 2019 Washington Open and 2019 Luxembourg Open 

Lorenzo Musetti
Age: 18
Ranking: 128
Country: Italy
Career highlights: Semifinals, 2020 Sardinia; Third round, 2020 Italian Open; One ATP Challenger title and two ITF Futures titles 

Brandon Nakashima
Age: 19
Ranking: 166
Country: USA
Career highlights: Second round, 2020 US Open; One ATP Challenger title and two ITF Futures titles 

Anastasia Potapova
Age: 19
Ranking: 101 (133 in doubles)
Country: Russia
Career highlights: Second round, 2019 Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon; Finalist, 2018 Moscow River Cup, 2018 Tashkent Open; Doubles champion, 2018 Moscow River Cup, 2019 Lausanne

Thiago Seyboth Wild
Age: 20
Ranking: 116
Country: Brazil
Career highlights: First round, 2020 US Open; Champion, 2020 Chile Open

Jannik Sinner
Age: 19
Ranking: 37
Country: Italy
Career highlights: Quarterfinals, 2020 French Open; Champion, 2020 Sofia Open, 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals 

Iga Swiatek
Age: 19
Ranking: 17 (75 in doubles)
Country: Poland
Career highlights: Champion, 2020 French Open 

Clara Tauson
Age: 18
Ranking: 152
Country: Denmark
Career highlights: Second round, 2020 French Open; Seven ITF titles 

Dayana Yastremska
Age: 20
Ranking: 29 (90 in doubles)
Country: Ukraine
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2019 Wimbledon; Champion, 2018 Hong Kong, 2019 Hua Hin, 2019 Strasbourg