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Alcaraz won't fret about sounding humble at Wimbledon, he wants to face Djokovic

Carlos Alcaraz Carlos Alcaraz - The Canadian Press

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Let other players downplay their championship chances at Wimbledon. Let other players profess — feign? — humility. Let other players express caution in Week 1 that it’s still way too early to be talking about the possibility of reaching the final at the end of the fortnight.

Carlos Alcaraz is not interested in any of that. He is No. 1 in the ATP rankings and No. 1 in the seedings at the All England Club and embraces that status. Every bit of it.

So on Saturday, after reaching the fourth round at the All England Club with a 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-5 victory over No. 25 Nicolas Jarry at Centre Court, when he was asked whether it comes as something of a shock to him to already be one of the faces of the Grand Slam tournament, and already one of its favorites, at the ripe old age of 20, Alcaraz shrugged.

“Well, I’m not surprised, honestly, ’cause I know my skills. I know what I’m capable of,” Alcaraz said, wearing the white bucket hat that’s become his signature news conference accessory. ”(It’s) something that I work really hard (for): to be in that position, to be what I am right now.”

And when he was asked how difficult it is to avoid thinking about a potential matchup against Novak Djokovic — owner of four consecutive trophies, and seven overall, at Wimbledon; owner of a men’s-record 23 major championships in total — Alcaraz again dismissed the premise.

“Well, not only tennis fans, sports fans, want (that) final,” Alcaraz said, his ever-present smile melting into a chuckle. “Myself, as well, honestly.”

He then briefly, but ever so briefly, trotted out the types of things athletes are often trained to think they’re “supposed” to tell the media — about how he’s “really focused on the next round” ... and how the next player he'd meet produces “great tennis on grass” ... and how that’ll “be really tough” ... and blah, blah, blah — before course-correcting and returning to a more frank glimpse into his mindset.

“But obviously,” said Alcaraz, who will face 2021 runner-up Matteo Berrettini for a quarterfinal berth, “my dream is to play a final here. Even better (if it) is Novak.”

Soon enough, the reigning U.S. Open champion was back on a roll, discussing how he feels “really comfortable” in the grass-court event’s main stadium ... how he has “a lot of confidence right now” ... how his style doesn’t “change too much,” no matter what the surface is ... how his flexibility and explosiveness are the two qualities of his game he’s proudest of.

None of it sounded unduly arrogant. None of it seemed untrue, either. Especially when taking into account what other players say about Alcaraz.

“He’s showing who he is,” said Berrettini, who missed Wimbledon a year ago because he tested positive for COVID-19 and beat Alexander Zverev in straight sets Saturday. “The first time I played him two years ago, I felt this kid is special.”

No. 10 Frances Tiafoe, a 25-year-old American, was among the players whose third-round contests were affected by yet more rain Saturday: His match was early in the third set after he dropped the first two against three-time major semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov when they were sent home for the evening.

The winner of that one will go up against No. 6 Holger Rune, the 20-year-old from Denmark who saved two match points — and benefited from his foe's questionable decision to try an underarm serve at 8-all in the final tiebreaker — along the way to edging No. 31 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8). Rune was twice a point from losing at 5-4 in the fifth set; then he trailed 8-5 in the first-to-10 concluding tiebreaker before racing to the finish, helped in part by taking advantage of that short serve that he punished with a winning return.

“Yeah,” Rune said about the underarm offering, “I wouldn’t have done it.”

A big matchup in the women's fourth round will be 2022 runner-up Ons Jabeur against 2011 and 2014 champion Petra Kvitova. Also moving on were defending champion Elena Rybakina, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 13 Beatriz Haddad Maia, No. 21 Ekaterina Alexandrova and No. 25 Madison Keys.

All of the wet weather wreaked havoc on the schedule; Alcaraz was on court for the second day in a row, for example. That was nothing compared to No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over Laslo Djere came on the fifth consecutive day of competition for the runner-up at the 2021 French Open and the 2023 Australian Open.

Tsitsipas next faces unseeded American Chris Eubanks, who extended what is by far the best stretch of his career by tacking on another 23 aces and 65 total winners while beating Christopher O'Connell 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).

Eubanks, never before past the second round at any Slam, complained about hating playing on grass as recently as a month ago, but he's now won eight matches in a row on the green stuff, including a run to his first career ATP title last week in Mallorca, Spain.

“I think it’s slowly, slowly growing on me,” he said. “But at this point, I think borderline I might say it’s my favorite surface.”


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