Carlos Alcaraz makes the early markers as a prospective major champion hard to ignore, but Matteo Berrettini has ensured it won't come at his expense at Australian Open 2022.
Timing, of course, was everything, and the Italian reminded the 18-year-old as much with a stirring 6-2 7-6(3) 4-6 2-6 7-6[10-5] triumph in the third round on Friday.
At a career-high mark of world No.7, Berrettini started his season on ATP Cup duty for Italy in Sydney, where he fell to Alex de Minaur and Daniil Medvedev, either side of a win over Frenchman Ugo Humbert.
It was just the matchplay he required ahead of his fifth Australian Open campaign, after an abdominal injury scuttled his ATP Finals appearance on home soil in November.
Alcaraz closed out his season with victory in the Next Gen Finals but had not contested a lead-up event, opting instead for an extended off-season to fine-tune preparations for his second Australian Open.
Berrettini had tasted defeat in the pair's only previous meeting, which the teenager narrowly landed in Vienna – also in a deciding tiebreak – last year.
How the match unfolded
While the teenager had five chances for a break on the Italian's opening two service games, it was Berrettini who made good on his second opportunity to draw first blood.
Able to access short angles due to his height, he was picking off more free points early on his serve and with a double break in hand, drew the error on a 198km/h delivery out wide to secure the opening set after 39 minutes.
With the tiebreak in hand, the Roman appeared to be closing on a straight-sets result, only for the 31st seed to harness his aggression with a break for 5-4 and he duly consolidated to send the showdown to a fourth set.
As the afternoon shadow began to cover the court, Alcaraz's confidence only crept higher as he levelled at two sets apiece.
The teenager had never before surged back from two sets down in his short career but already owned a flawless 3-0 record in five-set matches, including his breakout triumph over then No.3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the US Open third round.
There was an early scare for Berrettini when he took a tumble on the run in the second game of the decider, but after an injury timeout cleared him to resume, neither player gave an inch.
After three hours and 56 minutes of play, the Italian arrived at match point on his opponent's serve when a wild swinging forehand volley from mid court sailed long.
Alcaraz survived, and as the pair headed to a match tiebreak it was the Italian who held his nerve as the contest ended on Alcaraz's ninth double fault.
The key stat
Through to the fourth round for the sixth time in the past seven majors, Berrettini was clutch on serve in his four-hour, 10-minute triumph.
He landed 71 per cent of first serves and won 78 per cent of those. He saved nine of 13 break points faced.
What it means for Alcaraz
The youngest player seeded at a major since Michael Chang more than 32 years ago, Alcaraz was also the youngest man in the Open Era to reach the US Open quarterfinals last September.
He had high hopes of back-to-back second-week runs at a major.
The defeat was the first of his four five-set matches contested, but his resolve left Berrettini with little doubt about his future standing in the men's game.
"Unbelievable. I think at his age I didn't have an ATP point," Berrettini said of the Spaniard.
"He's impressive. He can only improve playing matches like this. He showed everybody his potential. Luckily today I won, but really congrats to him."
What next for Berrettini?
Another Spaniard, 19th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, now stands between the Italian and his maiden Australian Open quarterfinal.
Victory would ensure Berrettini had progressed to the last eight or better at the past four majors should he win his first-time clash with the world No.21.
Carreno Busta earlier prevailed 6-4 7-5 6-7(6) 6-3 over American Sebastian Korda.
Seventeenth seed Gael Monfils is the highest-remaining seed between the Italian and a semifinal berth at Melbourne Park.