Carlos Alcaraz found himself in a hint of a predicament 35 minutes into his US Open quarterfinal against Alexander Zverev. At 3-all in the first set under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Zverev earned the first break points of the match.
An opening, an opportunity to gain an early edge against the defending champion. Alcaraz dismissed those chances to hold, then gained a break himself in the next game by depositing an overhead that bounced into the stands. One more service hold arrived and, just like that, the set belonged to Alcaraz, as did, eventually, a spot in the semi-finals. The top-seeded Alcaraz pushed aside Zverev 6-3, 6-2 and 6-4, moved a step closer to becoming the first man to win consecutive titles at Flushing Meadows since Roger Federer collected five in a row from 2004-08.
But the 12th-seeded Zverev, a 26-year-old German who was the runner-up at the 2020 US Open, said he felt something bothersome in his left hamstring area early in the second set. And because of that, he explained, sprinting and pushing off properly to serve became problematic. There have not been many instances in which anyone has managed to slow down Alcaraz, a 20-year-old from Spain, in any real way over the past year-plus of Grand Slam action. He improved to 24-1 in his past four major tournaments: After the championship in New York 12 months ago, he sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury, made it to the semi-finals of the French Open before cramping up in a loss to Novak Djokovic, and added the Wimbledon trophy by beating Djokovic in the final, before the run over these two weeks.
There could be an Alcaraz vs. Djokovic rematch in Sunday’s final. Alcaraz will take on 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev in the final four on Friday, while 23-time Slam champ Djokovic faces unseeded Ben Shelton, a 20-year-old American who’s never been this far at a major. On a sweltering evening, Alcaraz showed off several aspects of his varied game against Zverev. The powerful forehands that elicit gasps from the crowd. The delicate drop shots. The hammered returns. The all-court speedy coverage. The willingness to try and ability to succeed on shots others wouldn’t even consider. There’s also a sense of the moment, knowing when there are points, or games, he absolutely needs to have. On Wednesday, he saved all five break points he faced and converted each of the four he earned in Zverev’s service games. Alcaraz said he tries to think of those potentially outcome-altering junctures as “normal point; try to do the things that I was doing well. Trying to play my style, trying to (be) aggressive.”