Defending Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz comes back to beat Frances Tiafoe in the third round


LONDON — LONDON (AP) — Carlos Alcaraz found himself pushed to a Grand Slam fifth set again, this time at Wimbledon, this time against good pal Frances Tiafoe. And as he usually does under such circumstances, no matter how much trouble he might have been in, Alcaraz surged to the finish.

Alcaraz avoided a surprising exit and got past Tiafoe 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 on Friday to reach Wimbledon’s fourth round in an entertaining match filled with moments of brilliance and a series of momentum swings across its 3 hours, 50 minutes.

“It’s always a big challenge playing against Frances. As I’ve said many, many times, he’s a really talented player. Really tough to face. And he showed it once again,” Alcaraz said. “It was really, really difficult for me to adapt my game, to find solutions, to try to put him in trouble. But really happy to do it at the end.”

In front of a Centre Court crowd that included Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, and under a closed retractable roof that amplified the thuds of rackets-on-balls, grunts and cheers, the third-seeded Alcaraz was outplayed for stretches by No. 29 Tiafoe.

But Alcaraz was better at the business end and improved to 12-1 in his nascent career in fifth sets — including victories in the semifinals and final at the French Open after being down 2-1 in sets en route to the title there last month. Tiafoe fell to 6-13 in five-setters.

Tiafoe was unable to pull out what would have been a surprising victory for someone who arrived at Wimbledon with a sprained ligament in his right knee and a losing record this season.

Sure came close, though.

The 26-year-old American was two points away from getting the chance to serve for the win, getting to love-30 on Alcaraz’s serve at 4-all in the fourth set. But Alcaraz steadied himself and claimed the next four points, capped by an ace at 130 mph (210 kph).

He then dominated the ensuing tiebreaker, grabbing a 5-0 lead.

“I served (at) a lot of difficult moments during the fourth set. … All I was thinking is: ‘OK, fight one more ball, one more ball.’ Thinking about the next point,” Alcaraz said. “And obviously in the tiebreak, I always tell myself that I have to go for it. If I lose it, I lose it, but I have to feel that I went for it all the time.”

The final set featured more one-way traffic. Tiafoe held in the opening game, but that was pretty much that. At 1-all, Alcaraz got the last break he would need by smacking a cross-court backhand passing shot that Tiafoe let fly by; the ball landed right at the baseline, spraying a bit of chalk.

Others into the fourth round with victories on a rainy day were French Open runner-up Jasmine Paolini, No. 19 Emma Navarro — the American who eliminated Naomi Osaka earlier in the week — and 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys in the women’s bracket, and No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 12 Tommy Paul in the men’s.

Most of the attention was on Alcaraz and Tiafoe, two known for providing a show. Alcaraz delivered on-the-run, back-to-the-net ’tweeners and pointed to his ear to ask spectators for more noise; Tiafoe interacted with the fans, too, waving to them to get louder.

These two good-naturedly traded some mild trash talk when they found out they’d be facing each other, and they hugged and chatted at the net when it was over.

Tiafoe stopped playing during a match last month at the Queen’s Club event after hurting his knee, and was just 13-14 in 2024 before Wimbledon, with some of those losses coming against players he referred to as “clowns,” without naming names.

After Tiafoe, who wore a black sleeve on his right knee, slipped and went down to the ground a couple of times Friday, Alcaraz walked around the net to the other side of the court to check on him or offer a hand to help him get to his feet.

There were fewer of the sorts of lengthy, extended exchanges they engaged in at Flushing Meadows a little less than two years ago — when Alcaraz defeated Tiafoe in a five-setter in the U.S. Open semifinals — mostly owing to the speedier grass that tends to end points quickly. Still, there was shared excellence aplenty, including a 22-stroke point that Alcaraz won to help lead 4-2 in the first set.

Tiafoe broke right back and soon owned that set. Alcaraz righted himself in the second. Then it was Tiafoe’s turn to play better in the third. And, ultimately, it was Alcaraz who emerged.

Now Alcaraz will continue to pursue a second consecutive title at the All England Club and his fourth Grand Slam trophy overall, including the recent triumph in Paris that made the 21-year-old Spaniard the youngest man to win a major championship on all three surfaces.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis



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