Jannik Sinner of Italy plays a forehand return against Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz during their French Open semi-final at the Roland Garros Complex on Friday. — AFP
Jannik Sinner of Italy plays a forehand return against Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz during their French Open semi-final at the Roland Garros Complex on Friday. — AFP

PARIS: Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz recovered from a woeful start to beat an inconsistent Jannik Sinner 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 and qualify for his maiden French Open final after a see-saw encounter on Friday.

The third seed was a shadow of his brilliant self in the opening set before making the most of his Italian opponent’s premature cramps to level before the bizarre match went into a decider.

Australian Open champion Sinner, who will take over as world number one next week, bowed out when he returned a massive forehand down the line wide on the third match point on court Philippe Chatrier.

Double Grand Slam champion Alcaraz, who is hoping to add to his Wimbledon and US Open titles, will face German Alexander Zverev or two-time runner-up Casper Ruud of Norway on Sunday.

“You have to find the joy in suffering, I think that’s the key, even more here on clay, here at Roland Garros, long rallies, four-hour matches, five sets, you have to fight, you have to suffer,” said Alcaraz.

“Probably, the toughest matches that I’ve played in my short career have been against Jannik, the US Open 2022, this one, it shows the great player Jannik is […] and I hope to play many, many more matches like this one against Jannik, but yes it’s one of the toughest matches that I’ve played, for sure.”

Sinner got off to an explosive start and his poise, pace and precision were too much to handle for an out-of-sorts Alcaraz as the Italian raced to a 4-0 lead.

The Spaniard, however, reacted and pulled a break back as Sinner’s first-serve percentage took a dip.

But Alcaraz still could not find his stride and Sinner won another two games in a row to bag the opening set when his opponent netted an ill-timed drop shot.

Yet another unforced error handed Sinner the early break in the second set, but the Italian, who before the French Open had not played for almost a month because of a hip injury, suddenly lost his stride, allowing Alcaraz to use his forehand to devastating effect and level the match.

The Spaniard broke for 2-1 in the third set with a gravity-defying crosscourt passing shot as Sinner’s freefall continued, but despite suffering from apparent hand cramps, the future world number one clawed his way back and saved break points in the fifth game to stay in the contest.

Sinner then broke twice more to take the set — a scenario that seemed highly unlikely when he was barely able to hold his racket a few minutes earlier.

The match finally lived up to its billing in the fourth set with both players trading impressive blows. Leading 5-4, Alcaraz rallied from 30-0 down on Sinner’s serve to win four points in a row, forcing a decider with a crosscourt backhand winner at the end of a spectacular point.

He snatched the early break by wrongfooting Sinner in the second game and did not look back, despite some nerves on the first two match points.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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