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Alcaraz accelerates to the finish against Gasquet

  • Lee Goodall

Carlos Alcaraz won his first match of the year and his first in Melbourne since 2022 by wearing down 37-year-old Frenchman Richard Gasquet in straight sets on Tuesday night at Australian Open 2024.

MORE: All the scores from Day 3 at AO 2024

Once the second seed from Spain had raised his game in time to edge a tight 72-minute first set on a tiebreak, the two-time major winner pulled away to ease through 7-6(5) 6-1 6-2.

The Spaniard missed last year’s Australian Open through injury, and will be keen to keep building momentum when he faces Italian Lorenzo Sonego in the second round on Thursday.

MORE: AO 2024 men's singles draw

In his first outing of the new season, understandably there was a little rust during the early stages, but the former US Open and Wimbledon champion grew sharper as the match wore on while Gasquet – 16 years older – began to tire.

Alcaraz absorbed the best of Gasquet's game, and then simply pulled away

“I haven’t had a good run during the years that I’ve played here but I enjoy it a lot [in Australia],” Alcaraz told John McEnroe in his post-match on-court interview.

“In the first set I struggled a little bit with his game, Richard was playing great as well, but every set I’ve been playing better and better and in the end I played quite a good level.

“He’s been around forever. He’s an amazing player. He has a lot of talent. His backhand is amazing, it’s crazy. He did a pretty good first set and then I put my own game.”

It was billed as a generational battle – 21-year-old world No.2 Alcaraz against the former world No.7 Gasquet, who this week dropped outside the top 100 for the first time for more than 18 years.

During the early stages though, there were plenty of reminders of why Gasquet has spent so long at the top of the sport and has three Grand Slam semifinal runs to his name.

The Frenchman did everything he could to stay with Alcaraz in the early stages, and was soon drenched in sweat on a warm night inside Rod Laver Arena. 

Gasquet's endeavour and shot-making couldn't be faulted

In just his opening three service games Gasquet played an eye-watering 36 points, and by the time he held for 4-3 he’d saved nine break points.

After 62 minutes, the Frenchman had scrambled into a tiebreak that went on to feature a handful of hotshots.

Gasquet was the first to bring the RLA crowd to its feet when he ended a 22-shot exchange with a vintage backhand winner up the line to break back for 3-3.

A backhand rocket of his own got Alcaraz back level at 4-4, before a bullet forehand this time brought up a set point for the Spaniard at 6-5.

Another perfectly-constructed point full of vision, touch and exquisite feel allowed the second seed to seal the shootout 7-5 after well over an hour.

After investing so much and being rewarded with so little, Gasquet now faced a gargantuan task. The situation was summarised nicely by world feed commentator Wally Masur.

“I think right about now Gasquet runs out of ideas, runs out of legs and runs out of belief,” predicted the former Aussie great.

He was spot on.

Alcaraz struck quickly in the second to go up a break at 2-0, and not long after finished off a one-sided 30-minute second set.

The third wasn’t much closer as Alcaraz started to pull away. The only problem he encountered was finishing the match off, finally converting his fifth match point after two hours and 22 minutes.