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Assured Alcaraz relishing debut second week at AO

  • Dan Imhoff

True to his word Carlos Alcaraz is treating Rod Laver Arena crowds to a spectacle with all the bells and whistles through the opening week at Melbourne Park.

So it came as a welcome surprise to the two-time major winner when some of that good will was unconventionally returned before his opponent Jerry Shang retired hurt from their third-round showdown.

MORE: All the results from Australian Open 2024

Following a shot-making extravaganza against Richard Gasquet in the first round, the second seed admitted he occasionally hit shots to impress spectators, but on Saturday, it was the crowd’s turn to put on a show for the Spaniard.

Leading a set and 4-1, Alcaraz was in cruise control before the first Chinese man to progress as far at Melbourne Park called for an injury timeout to have his upper right leg treated.

The Village People’s YMCA sounded through the arena during the break, which prompted one exuberant reveller to break into an improvised variation of the song’s famous dance.

Alcaraz could not contain his laughter as he watched on the big screen.

It was a fitting reflection of how at ease the 20-year-old is following his first venture to the fourth round at the Australian Open.

“I'm feeling great. Probably 7, 8 [out of 10]. It's a high note, but that's how I feel,” Alcaraz said following the 6-1 6-1 1-0 ret result.

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“I don't know. I think I'm improving every day. Every match that I'm playing, I'm feeling better and better. Moving, hitting the ball, and, of course, I'm getting used to this court as well. I didn't play so much in this court. I think everything is good.

“I’m taking good things from the court, from the level that I'm playing. Hopefully it's going to be better and better.”

Playing before the great Rod Laver, the 20-year-old Alcaraz impressed from the outset facing someone younger for the first time in 294 matches.

The pressure from Alcaraz was immense as heavy blows off both wings rushed the teenager and drew the errors for a double break after just 20 minutes. Seven minutes later the opening set was in the bag.

There was an ominous sign when the world No.140 arrived for his RLA debut with his upper right leg heavily strapped and despite being blessed with speed and good hands there was little Shang had in his repertoire that could truly damage his opponent.

Following his on-court treatment and the YMCA dance-off high in the stands, Shang could only shake his head at his failed drop-shot in a desperate attempt to slow Alcaraz’s progression and called time after 66 minutes.

Alcaraz will next face 60th-ranked Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, who saved two match points against 14-seeded American Tommy Paul, for a place in the quarterfinals.

While he missed AO2023 due to a hamstring injury, victory ensured he became the youngest player in the Open Era to advance to the fourth round in seven consecutive Grand Slam appearances, a feat which surpassed Bjorn Borg’s previous record set in 1977.

“I missed this tournament last year,” Alcaraz said. “I was watching the matches from home, from the couch, wishing to play second week here. 

“This is the first time that I move to second week in Australia. It feels special. I watched this tournament every year and yeah, coming to this tournament this year I [wanted] to improve the result that I made in 2022 and I did it. 

“Now it's time to keep going, to play better and better and hopefully still move [through the] rounds.”