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Alcaraz takes four to stop Sonego

  • Gill Tan

When Carlos Alcaraz isn’t striking balls on Melbourne Park’s iconic blue courts, chances are the second seed has his eyes glued to a screen watching others do the same.

“I like to watch all the matches when I can,” said the Spaniard. “I follow every result.

MORE: All the scores from Day 5 at AO 2024

“I watched the (Novak) Djokovic match last night,” he added, referring to the world No.1’s second-round battle against Alexei Popyrin, which ended at midnight.

“I'm a huge fan of tennis, every time I can to watch some matches, I do it."

Millions across the globe are tuning in to catch Alcaraz in action at Australian Open 2024, too.

On Thursday at Rod Laver Arena, the 20-year-old powered his way into the third round with a gruelling 6-4 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6(3) victory over Lorenzo Sonego.

“I’m really happy with my performance today,” said Alcaraz after the match, which took three hours and 25 minutes.

“I think both of us played such a great level, high intensity. The match was a little bit tricky with the wind and the sun, it was tough to play your best."

Alcaraz lifted his level after dropping the second set

Unlike certain baseline-hugging peers, Sonego and Alcaraz are comfortable just about everywhere on court. The duo chose ended a combined 87 points at net, roughly one in every three points of the match.

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After a particularly spectacular exchange, which the Italian ended with a deft drop volley, Alcaraz applauded, then congratulated his rival with a high five at the net.

The second seed later earned Sonego’s applause after ripping another scorching backhand winner around the net.

“I really enjoyed every moment on court, I played well,” said Sonego.

“It is tough to beat him, he’s a great talent … he’s a really complete player." 

Sonego, the world No.46, is yet to record a top-five win at a major and has lost his past seven matches to top-five opponents, but by clinching a set against Alcaraz, inched closer than the straight-sets defeats he suffered against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2019 and Wimbledon 2022 respectively.

Alcaraz gave credit to his 28-year-old rival, who struck 37 winners, six shy of the Spaniard’s own 43.

“In the [first] tiebreak, he started to play an unbelievable game … he made some big returns after a good first serve from me," Alcaraz said.

"The level that he played, it was really, really high.”

On Saturday, the right-hander is eyeing a first AO fourth-round berth when he tackles Chinese wildcard Juncheng “Jerry” Shang.

MORE: AO 2024 men's singles draw

“He's one of the best players on tour, I've watched him the whole year,” Shang said of Alcaraz on Thursday.

“In 2023, he had amazing runs, amazing matches in the Grand Slams.”

The 18-year-old has “low expectations” ahead of his maiden clash against Alcaraz.

“I expect nothing but a really nice crowd,” said the southpaw. “Just [want] to enjoy every point, every moment out there, try to learn … it's going to be great, I'm going to have fun.”

Similarly, Alcaraz has watched Shang's recent successes.

“I know he’s playing well, I follow[ed] his run in Hong Kong, he beat some big guys,” said the Spaniard, referring to Shang’s upsets over Laslo Djere, Botic van de Zandschulp and Frances Tiafoe before a three-set loss to top seed Andrey Rublev.

“I know he has the level, he's already there. What I've seen so far from him, he's an unbelievable player, he's ready to make a good result.

“I think it's going to be a fun match to play … for the fans I think it's going to be great, as well.”