Carlos Alcaraz fights back to make French Open final with five-set win over Sinner

World number three recovers to defeat Italian 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning against Italy's Jannik Sinner. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty

When Carlos Alcaraz’s childhood ­performances indicated that an ­exciting career might lie ahead, he entered his first ATP challenger event in April 2019, aged 15. In the first round, Alcaraz, an unranked ­wildcard, was drawn against a 17-year-old named Jannik Sinner, ranked No 319. The pair battled across three intense sets before Alcaraz emerged with a first challenger win.

That fateful first meeting, played out to a tiny local audience at ­Alcaraz’s academy in Villena, Spain, would mark the starting point of what could turn out to be the ­defining rivalry of the post-big three generation. They met here as grand slam champions at a major tournament for the first time and, after a freezing cold start to a tension-filled contest that burned slowly, Alcaraz recovered from a set and a break down to reach his first Roland Garros final with a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.

“Probably the toughest matches that I’ve played in my short career have been against Jannik,” said Alcaraz. “The US Open in 2022, this one. That means a great player ­Jannik is, the team he has as well, the great work that he puts in every day. I hope to play many more matches like this one against Jannik. It’s one of the toughest matches I have played, for sure.”

This was the youngest grand slam semi-final since Andy Murray’s win over Rafael Nadal at the 2008 US Open, and with his victory Alcaraz is the youngest man in history to reach a slam final on all three surfaces. The 21-year-old is also the second ­youngest player to reach the final in the 21st century; Nadal was younger on three occasions. He will seek a third major title on Sunday.


Despite Alcaraz’s determination to attack and take the initiative early on, it was Sinner who sped through the opening exchanges. The 22-year-old returned with relentless ­consistency and depth, he easily deflected ­bullet forehands from Alcaraz and ­whenever he had time on the ball, it did not come back. After 20 minutes, the Italian led 4-0 and he quickly took the first set.

As Alcaraz’s errors piled up, a concerning situation became ­critical as he trailed by a set and a break. He found a way back by drawing on the ­winning tactics of their ­previous match at Indian Wells, adding more height and spin to his rally ball, mixing up the pace of his shots and depriving ­Sinner of rhythm. From 6-2, 2-0 down, Alcaraz levelled the match.

Both players were clearly ­struggling with nerves, and that ­tension soon manifested itself ­physically. Like Alcaraz a year ago in his semi-final defeat to Novak ­Djokovic, both ­players began to ­suffer cramps. ­Sinner received ­treatment on his right hand and later his legs during the ­changeovers. His ­physical ­problems left him no option but to shorten points, which actually allowed him to attack with more ­freedom. Just as it seemed that Alcaraz had taken ­control of the match, it was Sinner who took the decisive break and established a one set lead again.

As both players toiled, the match had been largely been defined by ­tension and errors. But it slowly came alive through the fourth set. They both guarded their serves well, ­keeping hold of their service games while each one seemed to free up their ball striking a little bit more. Still, Alcaraz always seemed to be biding his time. At 5-4 on Sinner’s serve, he pounced and closed out a chaotic game by firing a cross-court backhand winner at the first opportunity.

With momentum firmly in his pocket, Alcaraz began to find first serves and his forehand was finally flowing as he dominated the baseline exchanges. He snatched a break at the start of the fifth set and although Sinner pressured him right until the end, the Spaniard held firm in a final nerve-racking game to advance.

“You have to enjoy suffering,” he said afterwards. “I think that’s the key. Even more here in clay, long ­rallies, four-hour matches, five sets. You have to suffer. But as I said to my team, you have to enjoy suffering.”

For Alcaraz, this was another ­significant milestone after a ­difficult 11 months. Since his incredible win at Wimbledon last year, the ­Spaniard has won one title. Along with ­multiple injuries, at times he has been ­damagingly erratic on the court, struggling to temper his ­impulsiveness. But this was a reflection of his maturity as he adapted, adjusted and found a way through. – Guardian