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ATP Umag, Croatia
Weekend Winners: Jannik Sinner claims the "Future Bowl" in Umag over Carlos Alcaraz
Meanwhile, Alex De Minaur and Marie Bouzkova leveraged good Wimbledon runs for their first titles of 2022—and Caroline Garcia backed up her Warsaw upset over Iga Swiatek with another trophy.
Published Aug 01, 2022
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Carlos Alcaraz sprinted to his right and threw his racquet out in a desperate attempt to stab the ball back over the net. Then he turned around, sprinted to his left, slid halfway across the court, and threw up a towering backhand lob. Then he turned back around and did it all over again.
This was how the Spaniard spent most of his afternoon in Umag on Sunday. If you were a line judge or a ball kid on his side of the court, you had to be on your toes, because Alcaraz and his racquet were rarely more than a few inches from your face.
Normally, Alcaraz’s defensive exploits inspire amazed reactions from commentators and gasps from the crowd, and these did as well. The problem is that no player, even one as lightning quick as he is, can win with gasp-inducing defensive exploits alone. At least not in a final, against a player like the one who was on the other side of the net from him, Jannik Sinner. While Alcaraz did the running on Sunday, Sinner did the hitting, and ultimately the winning, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-1, for his first title of 2022.
This match might have been dubbed the Future Bowl of men’s tennis. Alcaraz is 19, Sinner is 20 (he’ll turn 21 on August 16). Each has already cracked the Top 10 and been touted for much more—Sinner was seen as the Next Big Thing in 2020 and 2021, before Alcaraz swooped in and grabbed that title with both hands in 2022. They had split their previous two matches, with Sinner winning the most recent and most important at Wimbledon earlier in the month.
For the first hour or so on Sunday, it looked as if Alcaraz would avenge that defeat. He won the first-set tiebreaker with one of his patented incredible gets, and he earned six break points on Sinner’s serve in the second game of the second set. But instead of storming on to victory, the Spaniard went off his game just enough to let Sinner in the door. Alcaraz couldn’t convert any of those break points, and appeared to tighten up on his backhand side. At the same time, Sinner was finding a powerful groove on his own two-handed backhand. Instead of wearing Sinner down with his defense, Alcaraz helped him get into a rhythm that would prove to be unstoppable.
“That was a crucial point,” Sinner said of his service hold for 1-1. “I knew I had to stay there. He made some unforced errors, and I was very happy that I won this game. Then I returned well and raised my level a little bit, and I think I found a solution then.”
Sinner’s solution was to go big into Alcaraz’s backhand side, move forward, and finish the point crosscourt. Alcaraz couldn’t find an answer, or find a way to get on top of the rallies. Sinner won one point with a perfectly measured redrop that Alcaraz could only applaud, and won another rally where he hit the outside of the line two different times. The final insult came with Alcaraz serving at 1-2 in the third. On break point, Sinner hit a return so hard that Alcaraz didn’t have time to turn and square up for a backhand. All he could do was try to a behind-the-back shot that flew well long.
“I’ve had a tough year until now,” Sinner said. “I had some unfortunate moments, but we worked every time to play better, to be a better player. So, I’m very happy to be finally lifting a trophy this year, but I know that I still have a lot of things to improve.”
Sinner may have things to improve, but so, it seems, does Alcaraz. The future appeared to be the Spaniard’s, but after two straight wins by the Italian, it looks like it’s up for grabs again. The only thing we know after Sunday is that it will be fun to watch these guys fight for it.
Jenson Brooksby says that his “superpower’ is his ability to identify and exploit his opponent’s weaknesses. If you happen to be one of those opponents, that’s the kind of statement that can play tricks with your mind. Instead of concentrating on your own game, you might start a match with Brooksby wondering what he’s going to target, and how he’s going to try to break you down.
Alex de Minaur had never faced Brooksby before their final in Atlanta on Sunday, but he understood what was in store for him.
“I knew coming in it [would be] a very tactical, chess-like match that we were going to both play,” De Minaur said. “I feel like we are both tricky players in that sense and we adapt very well, so [there were] a lot of tactics going both ways.”
De Minaur proved to be just as adept as Brooksby at thinking his way through a match. He understood that he had an advantage at net, so when he faced break points early on, he charged forward and saved them with winning volleys. De Minaur understood that Brooksby likes to work with his opponent’s pace, so at certain stages he took some speed off his shots and forced Brooksby to create the power himself; the result was a service break. Finally, De Minaur understood that he has an advantage in the athleticism department, so he turned many of the rallies into running contests, most of which went his way.
The upshot for the Australian was a 6-3, 6-3 win, a sixth career title and first of 2022, and a rise of nine spots in the rankings, to No. 21. The upshot for the American was his third loss in three career finals. Brooksby has to work hard, mentally and physically, to win just about any match he plays. Does that leave him slightly fatigued by Sunday? After impressive wins over John Isner on Friday and Frances Tiafoe on Saturday, Brooksby made some uncharacteristically loose errors against De Minaur, and never got his teeth into this match.
But that’s also because De Minaur, who has won in Atlanta in the past and is coming off a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon, was always a step ahead in his tactics and with his feet. Still just 23, he’ll be another player to reckon with as the US Open approaches. The energy of the U.S. hard-court season seems to fit his frenetic playing style.
“I feel great about my game,” De Minaur said. “I’ve put a lot of work in, so it’s great to see the hard work being rewarded.”
“What is happening in Warsaw this evening?”
The commentator doing the quarterfinal match between Iga Swiatek and Caroline Garcia on Friday sounded incredulous as he uttered these words. What was happening in Warsaw was not supposed to be happening: The world No. 1 was losing, on clay, in front of her stonily silent hometown fans. Swiatek had won 18 straight matches on this surface dating back to 2021, and was generally expected to win five more, and her seventh title of the year, at the Poland Open.
But Garcia, a veteran talent who has been ranked as high as No. 4, had other ideas. At Wimbledon, her countrywoman Alizé Cornet had ended Swiatek’s 37-match win streak by defending, retrieving, and out-steadying her. Garcia took a different and seemingly much more difficult tack by trying to out-hit her.
Time and again, Swiatek rifled the type of ground stroke that had been winning her points all season, only to see it come back with added pace and precision. After one Garcia forehand found the corner for a winner late in the third set, Swiatek bent down and shook her head in exasperation; on this day, for the first time all year, her best wasn’t good enough. Despite a late comeback effort, she fell short against a Frenchwoman for the second time in a month.
“I stayed positive,’ Garcia said. “I kept believing in my game and the way I wanted to play, and the third set was definitely very good tennis.’
Garcia’s very good tennis continued through the weekend. She dropped just eight games in semifinal and final-round wins over Jasmine Paolini and Anna Bogdan. After dropping to a recent low of No. 79 in May, Garcia now has two titles on two surfaces in two months (the other was on grass in Bad Homburg in June), as well as a fourth-round run at Wimbledon. Her win over Swiatek was her first over a world No. 1.
Five years ago, Garcia showed us how high her ceiling can be when she won back-to-back top-level titles in Wuhan and Beijing and climbed to No. 4. She’s back in the Top 50 now, which only means she has a lot more room for improvement, and for wins like this week’s.
Two facts about Marie Bouzkova seemed difficult to comprehend after her final-round win in Prague on Sunday.
(1) She’s just now, at 24, breaking into the Top 50.
(2) This was her first career title.
You never would have guessed from the way the Czech rode the home-fan support that Bouzkova is anything other than a veteran of the Top 20, and a player who knows how to handle a stage and use a crowd to her advantage.
She pounced on Anastasia Potapova, broke her right away, and kept the pressure as the Russian grew flustered with the situation. Bouzkova won by taking the initiative with big T serves, down-the-line forehands, and crosscourt backhands. She used every bit of energy the audience could give her in winning a 6-0 first set.
“I handled the beginning very well,” Bouzkova said. “She started off very strong, and I thought it was going to be a long match, but I was able to take a lot of chances, have this lead, and close it out. The fan support was unreal, ever since the first match. It was really special for me to experience this.”
And then, when Potapova began to make inroads in the second set, Boukova adjusted and did whatever she could to break her rhythm. Moonballs, slices, looped backhands, changes of pace: It was enough to keep Potapova from getting on a roll, and enough to get Bouzkova across the finish line, 6-0, 6-3.
Like De Minaur, Bouzkova is a player who could come out of the second-tier and surprise people over the next month. Three weeks ago, she made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, at Wimbledon; she now has her first title; and she’s at a career-high No. 46. With this player, that sounds like a floor, not a ceiling.