Teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz admitted there “is a little bit of pressure on me” after saving a match point and coming back from 3-0 down in the final set to defeat Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas and make the French Open third round on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old sixth seed, widely tipped to break the Grand Slam stranglehold of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, triumphed 6-1, 6-7 (7/9), 5-7, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 in a four-hour 34-minute epic.
It was the longest match of his career.
Alcaraz, bidding to become only the eighth teenager to win a Grand Slam men’s title, hit a matching 74 winners and 74 unforced errors on Court Simonne-Mathieu.
“It’s great that the people talk about you, think that I’m going to be No. 1 in the world, but of course it’s a little bit of pressure on me,” said Alcaraz.
“But I try not to think about it. Just of course be No. 1 in the world is my dream, my dream since I started playing tennis.”
The 34-year-old Ramos-Vinolas, ranked 44 and who made the quarter-finals in 2016, saved 23 of 31 break points before the flamboyant Alcaraz called on his deepest reserves and spectacular shot-making ability to win a memorable encounter.
“I feel tired,” said Alcaraz who came into Paris having claimed a season-leading four titles in Rio, Miami, Madrid and Barcelona.
“It was a great battle, a great match and we fought until the last point.”
Alcaraz saved a match point in the 10th game of the fourth set and was soon 3-0 down in the decider.
He pocketed the next four games only for the valiant Ramos-Vinolas to level at 4-4.
However, the 15-year age difference, combined with Alcaraz’s never-say-die scrambling and explosive speed allowed the teenager to break again for 5-4.
Cramping, Ramos-Vinolas was soon three match points down and Alcaraz claimed victory with his 10th ace.
“After losing the third set, it is true that I saw myself inferior to Albert and that I could lose, so I had to change something and not stop believing in myself, because I knew I was going to get my chances,” he added.
He believes the marathon encounter serves as a warning for the rest of the tournament.
“It’s a lesson. In tennis you learn by playing these types of matches and with these types of situations, where things don’t go your way and you have to do new things to turn it around.”
Alcaraz goes on to face US 27th seed Sebastian Korda, the last man to defeat him at Monte Carlo in April.
That was Alcaraz’s only loss in 19 matches on clay this season.
“I believe in myself, and of course I work hard every day,” said the teenager who is steadily gathering an army of young fans in Paris.
“You have to have a good goal, good dreams. Of course trying to follow your dream. Work hard every day. I think that’s the secret.”
“I’m still young, but I would say pretty experienced player now. I feel comfortable playing on the big stadium, big matches, playing in a Grand Slam. As I said, physically I’m strong. Mentally I’m strong, as well.”