Carlos Alcaraz came back from the brink to oust Alex de Minaur in a semi-final full of high drama at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on Sunday, as the #NextGenATP sensation’s dream 2022 showed no signs of slowing down at the ATP 500 event.
The 18-year-old saved two match points in the second set, one with an outrageous forehand pass on the run, as he overcame a slow start to notch a 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6- 4 win and book a championship match appointment with countryman Pablo Carreno Busta later on Sunday at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona-1899.
“I was lucky,” said Alcaraz after the match. “I did that passing shot, I don’t know how I did it, it was pretty close, but I was fighting until the last ball. I had my chances. I did it at the end of the second set, breaking his serve twice. It was an unbelievable match, very close, but I was fighting.”
Alcaraz was made to dig deep in the three-hour, 39-minute marathon between two of the best movers on the ATP Tour. With the match resuming at 2-2 in the opening set following rain delays on Saturday, it was De Minaur who initially looked the stronger of the two early on Sunday morning. But the reigning Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals stepped up a level in the second and third sets to move within one win of a third title of 2022.
“It’s tough to play a final this afternoon after this match, after this whole week, but it’s a final,” said Alcaraz of his clash with Carreno Busta later on Sunday. “You have to give 100 per cent, you have to fight until the last ball. It’s no time to be tired now, so you have to fight like the first day.”
De Minaur’s strong start on Pista Rafa Nadal saw him carve out two set points on the Alcaraz serve at 6-5, and although the Spaniard rallied to hold it was De Minaur who clinched the opening set with some impressive all-court play in the tie -break.
De Minaur combined his renowned defensive skills with some big forehand striking and solid serving to ensure Alcaraz remained under pressure throughout the pair’s first tour-level meeting. But the Australian failed to serve out for victory at 5-4 in the second set and then missed two match points at 6-5 in the second set, most notably when Alcaraz demonstrated his top-class athleticism by adjusting his body to find a forehand winner when down 40/15. Alcaraz sensed his chance and reclaimed the break before letting out a roar after leveling the match in a tie-break as De Minaur struggled to keep up with his rejuvenated opponent.
Although at times Alcaraz struggled to reach the level that has earned him 21 match wins in 2022 and took him to a maiden ATP Masters 1000 title at the Miami Open presented by Itau in March, the Spaniard demonstrated his resilience in a series of entertaining exchanges as he fought his way back into the match. Alcaraz made the decisive move in a topsy-turvy final set as he broke for 5-4, serving out to love to extend his match record for 2022 to 22-3.
The win takes Alcaraz to a 9-0 match record in ATP 500 tournaments in 2022, having won his maiden title at that level at the Rio Open presented by Claro in February. Lifting the trophy in Barcelona would cap a milestone week for the Spaniard, who will break into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings on Monday, becoming the youngest player to achieve that feat since countryman Rafael Nadal did so after winning at the Barcelona event in 2005 .
Alcaraz will face eighth seed Carreno Busta in the championship match after the Spaniard beat Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-4 in the other semi-final rescheduled for completion on Sunday morning.
Carreno Busta was emotional upon sealing a 99-minute victory on Pista Jan Kodes. The World No. 19 suffered semi-final losses at the Barcelona event in 2018 and 2021, but he broke Schwartzman three times after resuming at 2-2 in the first set to ensure there was no more final-four heartbreak in the city where he reside.
“Of course, it’s very special,” said Carreno Busta after the match. “Barcelona is my home. It’s very, very special to be in the final here. I lost two times in the semi-finals so finally I can play in the final. I know I have to be at 100 per cent again, and I will try to enjoy it because it is not normal to be in this situation.
“After yesterday with 12 hours at the club and we could only play four games, I think it was positive for me to have one more day to rest. Today I feel very good, I feel comfortable, playing with the crowd, it’s very important to be at home.”
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The Spaniard dropped his serve in the opening game of the match on Saturday night as the No. 6 seed Schwartzman started well, but Carreno Busta was not broken again as he extended his ATP Head2Head series lead over Schwartzman to 3-1. It is the second year in a row that Carreno Busta has defeated the Argentine in Barcelona, having prevailed in three sets at the quarter-final stage in 2021.
Sunday’s championship match with Alcaraz will be the first all-Spanish final in Barcelona since 2013, when Rafael Nadal defeated Nicolas Almagro. It is Carreno Busta’s first final of the year, and the 30-year-old is hunting a first title since winning his maiden ATP 500 crown at the Hamburg European Open in July.