Vienna 2021: Andy Murray denied 10th straight match-win by outstanding teen Alcaraz
Murray beat young Spaniard in Indian Wells, but lost the rematch in an outstanding contest
Carlos Alcaraz is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars among the new crop of players on the tennis tour. The 18-year-old Spaniard is blessed with great athleticism, speed, anticipation and, above all, the range and quality of shot-making to out-think all kinds of opponents.
Already, he had risen from 146 at the start of the year to break inside the top 40, reached the semis of Marbella and Winston Salem, the third round of Roland Garros via qualifying, won his first title in Umag and announced his top-flight credentials with a quarter-final run at the US Open.
There, he beat No3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in a fifth-set tie-break to become the youngest quarter-finalist in New York in the Open era. In addition, during 2021, he had got the better of three other men currently in contention for the ATP Finals in Turin.
Alcaraz had played only one tournament since New York, and that was in Indian Wells, where he faced wild card Andy Murray in his opening match. It was a first meeting, and Murray edged a three-hour plus three-setter in a growing number of long, arduous battles for the Briton with the metal hip.
Against Tsitsipas at the US Open, Murray finally lost in five sets and more than four and three-quarter hours. He survived almost two and a half hours to beat Ugo Humbert in Metz. And in Antwerp last week, he saved two match points to beat Frances Tiafoe in three tie-breaks after three and three-quarter hours.
Before he faced the brilliant Spaniard who is almost half his own age of 34, Murray had already pulled off his first top-10 win of the year against Hubert Hurkacz in another brutal draw for the Vienna wild card: That one took two and three-quarter hours and three sets.
Now Murray, a popular figure in Vienna, was aiming remain unbeaten in the Erste Bank Open, a tournament he has won twice, most recently as part of his ground-breaking 2016 surge to the end-of-year No1.
He brought a 9-0 run into this match, but it would become a test of the highest order to win No10.
The teenager made an explosive start against the Murray serve, making three winners down the line to work an immediate break point, and although the Briton saved it with a net attack, a minute later he faced a second, and this time Alcaraz pounded another forehand winner to break.
Murray looked ready to break straight back with some patient baseline exchanges, but the Spaniard eliminated the break point with his penetrating pace.
The former champion finally got on the board with a hold for 2-1, and was now going toe-to-toe with the Spaniard in long rallies, side-to-side, switching directions, using changes in spin to open up space for a winner. It earned Murray two break points.
Alcaraz unleashed some pile-driver serves, but a brilliant return gave Murray another chance. At the next attempt, the Briton smothered the net in the face of some great retrievals by the Spaniard, and pulled off the best winner thus far.
Murray had a fifth break chance as the game headed to its 11th minute and with the match well over half an hour old. Still the rallies lit up the packed Vienna arena, and a signature Murray lob got a sixth bite of the cherry. This time he converted, and roared ‘Let’s go!’
The mental maturity of Alcaraz was equally impressive: He hit two straight winners to go 0-30 on Murray’s serve. An aggressive move by the Spaniard to the net almost got the break, but it would take many more break and game points before Alcaraz did get his break, 3-2.
Once again, Murray came close to returning the favour, but the young Spaniard’s serving rose to the challenge, 4-2.
Murray had a chance to catch his breath with the first love hold of the set, after nearly an hour of tennis, but he had to find a break, and frankly the Spaniard was proving too hot to handle, even against some fine battling play from Murray. Alcaraz took little time to break for the set, 6-3, with his 13th winner—he had made only five errors—in what had been more than an hour of explosive tennis.
Alcaraz has great all-round skills, and he showed that with a deft touch volley winner to hold the first game of the second set. But both men were still at full pelt, and playing with great variety. Murray broke first, and then showcased both lob and touch drop-shot to hold for 3-1, with his 12th point won at the net.
But it took another 10 minutes to hold for 4-2, and he began to look depleted. Could the younger man keep him on the run, wear him down?
Sure enough, Alcaraz, still full of energy, broke back, held for 5-4, and forced Murray to try and hold. It took another of the Spaniard’s huge forehand winners to work break point, and despite Murray’s efforts in defence, he could not stem the tide. Alcaraz broke for set and match, with 27 winners to only 16 errors, 6-4, after well over two hours.
Alcaraz is not in contention this year’s ATP Finals, though it is only a matter of time—and probably no more than a year or two—until he is. However, he could make a difference to the line-up as he heads deeper into the Vienna draw.
He next faces either Matteo Berrettini—already qualified—or Nikoloz Basilashvili, who is effectively 13th in the Race.
Beyond that, he could face Cameron Norrie in the semis, with the Briton in close order for Turin if he can beat Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is one place behind him in the Race.
Thus far, in both Vienna and the 250 in St Petersburg, there have been few chinks in the armour of any of the contenders, except for Hurkacz—the man beaten by Murray.
Race to Turin [scheduled tournaments plus Paris Masters]
1. Novak Djokovic 8,370
2. Daniil Medvedev 6,470
3. Stefanos Tsitsipas 5,695 [Vienna 500]
4. Alexander Zverev 5,140 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
5. Andrey Rublev 4,205 [St Petersburg 250]
6. Matteo Berrettini 4,045 [Vienna 500]
7. Casper Ruud 3,060 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
[Rafael Nadal not playing]
8. Hubert Hurkacz 2,955 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
9. Jannik Sinner 2,880 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
10. Cameron Norrie 2,875 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
11. Felix Auger-Aliassime 2,375 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
12. Aslan Karatsev 2,280 [St Petersburg 250, Stockholm 250]
[Pablo Carreno Busta 1,925]
13. Nikoloz Basilashvili, 1,920 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
14. Diego Schwartzman 1,900 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
15. Denis Shapovalov 1,880 [St Petersburg 250, Stockholm 250]