By George Ramsay, CNN
It may still be early days in this year’s French Open, but some of the big names in the men’s singles draw have already been locked in thrilling, five-set matches.
Among them is 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, who saved a match point as he defeated fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1 6-7 5-7 7-6 6-4 on Wednesday.
Having defeated Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic earlier this month, Alcaraz has been earmarked as a potential outsider to triumph at Roland Garros.
But the sixth seed was close to an early exit in the second round against Ramos-Vinolas — first when he faced a match point in fourth set, then again when he trailed 0-3 in the fifth.
“I believed in myself the whole time,” Alcaraz told reporters. “Of course, it was tough … but I believed in myself.”
It took guts and determination for Alcaraz to stay in the match, and on numerous occasions he raced across the court to salvage points that seemed to be lost.
He might look back and reflect on the 23 break points he failed to convert, while Ramos-Vinolas was far more clinical in winning six of his seven break points.
But Alcaraz, who next faces American Sebastian Korda in the third round on Friday, did hit 74 winners — largely thanks to his excellent forehand — over the course of the four hour, 34 minute encounter.
“I’m still young, but I would say I’m an experienced player now,” said Alcaraz.
“I feel comfortable playing in big stadiums, big matches, being at grand slams. Physically, I’m strong, mentally I’m strong as well, so I think I’m ready to play these kinds of matches in these situations, these tournaments.”
Another top player to go to five sets in the men’s draw on Wednesday was third seed Alexander Zverev, who also saved a match point as he overcame Sebastian Baez 2-6 4-6 6-1 6-2 7-5.
Zverev was broken four times in the first two sets before recovering with four breaks of his own across the third and fourth.
A tight fifth set looked to be going in Baez’s favor when he moved a break up and then had a match point at 5-4, but Zverev, a semifinalist at last year’s French Open, was able to fight back and secure the crucial break at 5-5.
“You just have to find a way,” said Zverev. “You talk about mental strength, you talk about some players — the greats, Roger (Federer), Rafa (Nadal), Novak (Djokovic) — they always find a way in the most difficult moments.
“That’s why they are who they are. I’m never going to be on their level, but I’m trying to get closer to them and it’s definitely something that you need to do.”
Before Alcaraz and Zverev, last year’s finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas also went to five sets as he beat Lorenzo Musetti at Roland Garros on Tuesday.
There were more straightforward victories for Nadal and Djokovic in the second round with the former, aiming for his 14th French Open title, beating Corentin Moutet 6-3 6-1 6-4, and the latter, bidding for his third, beating Alex Molcan 6-2 6-3 7-6.
Nadal, who was playing in his 300th grand slam match, has endured an injury-plagued few months since winning the Australian Open in January. “I’m just enjoying the fact that I’m at Roland Garros, the most important tournament of the year for me,” he said.
Djokovic, meanwhile, looked to be cruising through to the third round against Molcan but was pushed to a third-set tie break in what he said were blustery, challenging conditions.
He will next face Aljaz Bedene on Friday as he continues his title defense.
In the women’s draw, defending US Open champion Emma Raducanu said she’s treating each defeat as a “lesson” to establish “where I went wrong, where I can improve” as she was lost 3-6 6-1 6-1 against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
In her first clay court swing, 19-year-old Raducanu has struggled with injuries ahead of her French Open debut, but also said she “got stronger” on the surface as the season went on. She next turns her attention to the grass and her home grand slam of Wimbledon next month.
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