Wimbledon | Alcaraz lives the dream

Carlos Alcaraz roared loud and long before smiling with wide-eyed wonderment after reaching his first Wimbledon semi-final and declared: “Honestly, it is amazing for me.”

The first set was really tough for me but from the second set I enjoyed it a lot. I played my game and put a smile on my face which is the key for everything. Carlos Alcaraz

The new Prince of Wimbledon put on a display fit for the attendant Queen as he took another step towards his bid to be crowned King of the All England Club by beating his friend, doubles partner and fellow 20-year-old Holger Rune 7-6(3) 6-4 6-4 in front of his Centre Court “people”.

And he will face third seed Russian Daniil Medvedev for the opportunity to reach the final and a possible date with reigning champion Novak Djokovic.

But Alcaraz, who claimed the Queen’s title recently, insisted he continued to defy his own expectations against Rune, even though the world No.1 has been tipped as the only viable opposition to seven-time champion Djokovic equalling the title record of Roger Federer.

He said: “Honestly, it is amazing for me. It’s been a dream since I started playing tennis. Making good results at Wimbledon, such a beautiful tournament. For me it’s a dream to be able to play a semi-final here. I am playing at a great level, I didn’t expect to play a great level on this surface. For me, it is crazy.

“At the beginning I was really nervous playing quarter-final at Wimbledon, but even more against Holger. Someone the same age as me playing a great level. It was tough to play against him but once you get into the quarter finals there’s no friends. You have to be focused on yourself and I think I did great in that part.

“The first set was really tough for me but from the second set I enjoyed it a lot. I played my game and put a smile on my face which is the key for everything. I screamed that huge ‘vamos’ (after winning the first set) which helped a lot to show my best level.”

On facing Medvedev: “We played two times and one was here in Wimbledon. It’s going to be a really tough one. His game suits this surface really well but I am going to enjoy this moment. You can’t play in a semi-final every year so I’m going to enjoy this moment and prepare for the match once it’s closer.”

The hyperbole was in overdrive going into the last-eight encounter between 20-year-olds born a week apart, Rune the older. The start of a new dawn, it was suggested. The first men’s All England quarter final between players under-21 in the Open Era. With Roger Federer retired and Rafa Nadal scheduled to draw the curtain on his glittering career next year, it appeared symbolic of a changing of the guard. That this showdown would be repeated many times in major deciders let alone last-eight clashes over the next decade.

Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune congratulate each other on an excellent match

(Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Just like legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, 19 and 20 respectively, did after the former beat the latter in the 1990 US Open final before the pair accumulated 22 Slam singles titles between them.

And whoever made it through would become the youngest player to make the semi-finals since 2007 when second seed Djokovic, one member of the old guard who is far from fading away, having already made the last-four.

Top seed Alcaraz would seem to have had the edge, having beaten Rune in the 2021 NextGen finals and only losing his other meeting with the Dane by being forced to retire with a stomach injury at the Paris 1000 event in 2022. Most significantly, of course, he lifted the US Open title and moved to world No.1 as a teenager last year, while Rune has yet to go beyond the last eight of a Slam, making successive French Open quarter final appearances in 2022 and 2023, with a career-high ranking of six.

There was also their differing personalities. Alcaraz had swiftly built a reputation as a smiley, sporting competitor, while Rune, fairly or unfairly, had been described as having a bad-boy image.

With Queen Camilla, TV cooking star Mary Berry and Poirot actor David Suchet looking on from the Royal Box, both rose to the occasion at the start.

Alcaraz displayed his cat-like mobility around the court and ferocious forehand as early as the opening game, in which he survived a break point; sustaining his form as the opening set progressed, adding a delightful backhand slice to good effect.

Rune kept pace with the Spaniard, his big serve a useful weapon, particularly an 130mph second-serve rocket to hold in the fourth game. It was a quality match up.

Alcaraz wobbled in the seventh game. He showed his frustration at being unable to break down the Dane’s serve in a rare display of loud verbal whingeing (in Spanish) in that seventh game. And trailed 0-30 on his own a game later but levelled at 4-4 as he got a grip on his emotions.

Rune appeared to be cracking in the next game after throwing away a 40-0 lead but he steadied his ship and put away a volley to keep it even stevens.

Who was going to blink first? Neither it seemed as the set went into a tiebreak. They swapped mini-breaks and at 3-3 they had each won 41 points.

But then the breakthrough came. Rune produced a double fault. Alcaraz held his next two serves, the second with a blistering forehand deep into the corner for three set points.

And he sealed it on the first of them as he let rip a thundering backhand return which flashed by Rune as Alcaraz roared and declared: “Vamos!”

The Dane with the back-to-front white peaked cap refused to drop his head and maintained form and focus to keep level pegging with the player lauded as the brightest young star in the tennis firmament in the second set.

Alcaraz, eventually and crucially, found a chink in the Rune armour in the ninth game of the set. He secured only the second break point of the match and, unlike Rune when he got the first in the opening game of the match, took it. And he served out to go two sets up.

The Spaniard turned the screw when he broke a fading Rune for a 3-2 lead. There was no let up as Alcaraz showed that although he and Rune were the same age, he was, by dint of his status and New York triumph last autumn, ahead in his development. Alcaraz earned a match point at 5-3 on the Rune serve but the Dane fought back to force the Spaniard to serve out for the match in the fading sunlight.

Carlos Alcaraz always shows his enjoyment of the game

(Photo by Frey/TPN/Getty Images)



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