Barcelona Open 2022: Tsitsipas, Alcaraz, Norrie power through double-duty schedule

Rain-hit draw forced eight third-round matches, and the resulting four quarter-finals into one day

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas (Photo: Marainne Bevis)

Challenging seems to be an appropriate word for everyone associated with the Barcelona Open this year. For the prestigious ATP500 tournament, played at one of Spain’s oldest and most illustrious tennis clubs, has encountered just a few problems.

The tournament director David Ferrer, in particular, must have begun to wonder what he had done to upset the tennis gods quite this much. The former world No3, owner of 27 titles, and four times a runner-up at this home-turf tournament before retirement three years ago, took over the reins in Barcelona in late 2019.

Then the global pandemic closed down the tournament his debut year as director. The sun came out for Ferrer last year when Spain’s greatest player, Rafael Nadal, won his 12th Barcelona title, beating the charismatic young Greek star, Stefanos Tsitsipas in one of the finals of the year, a three-hour, 38-minute marathon, 4-6, 7-6(6), 5-7.

But this year, the sun let Ferrer and his team down with a vengeance. For a start, their Spanish hero Nadal was out of contention with a rib fracture. And second, the rain decided to take centre stage to seriously disrupt the tournament schedule. Matches were postponed, others were moved, fans were disappointed and disgruntled, but in the end, the players were the ones who had to try and pick up the pieces.

Wednesday, and Round 2 action, was a struggle in a rain-interrupted schedule. And Thursday would also become a near wash-out, forcing top seed Tsitsipas and many others to complete their second-round matches on Thursday, and then return to play both their third-round and, for the winners, their quarter-finals on Friday.

Fortunately, the day dawned bright and sunny, the courts dried out, but still the schedule was an ambitious one that involved players moving between courts for different matches on the same day—never an easy transition.

For fans, though, here was a chance to see some of the very best in the world up close and personal on the outside courts. No6 seed Diego Schwartzman opened on Court 3, and after beating Lorenzo Musetti, he moved to Court 1 to face No3 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who first beat Frances Tiafoe on centre stage, Pista Rafa Nadal.

No10 seed Alex de Minaur beat Lloyd Harris by 6-0 and retirement, and headed to Court 1 for his quarter-final. There, he would face Briton Cam Norrie, who first found himself in a tough battle against Marton Fucsovics on Court 2.

Norrie battled through a game of almost half an hour’s duration as Fucsovics served for the first set. Finally the Briton got the break back, saving eight set points, 5-5, and then broke again to seize the set, 7-5.

But the Hungarian, who had already beaten two quality players, was soon in charge again, only for Norrie to break him back again as he served for the second set, 5-5. This time, they headed to a tie-break, where Norrie led 4-2 at the change of ends, but Fucsovics then went on a run of four points to serve for the set.

However, with balls in his hand, Norrie levelled again with a blistering forehand winner, 6-6. The Hungarian, though, was finding a rich vein of forehands, and five times had set point. He converted the last with a roar and a fist pump, 7-6(9), in a match already two and three-quarter hours long.

And there was nothing between them until the ninth game of the decider, 4-4, when Norrie broke to serve for the match. And after a game packed with long exhausting rallies, a Norrie forehand finally did the job, 6-4—after almost three and a half hours. Good news for the Briton, except that he would soon have to take on de Minaur who had needed only six games to reach the quarters.

One of the stand-out matches on Friday, one that would surely have featured on Centre Court in normal circumstances, was shunted across to Court 1. It brought top seed Tsitsipas face-to-face with fellow single-hander, Grigor Dimitrov—the former fresh from defending his Monte-Carlo Masters title and the latter from reaching the semis there.

Tsitsipas had a 2-1 lead in previous matches over the Bulgarian, including their only meeting on clay—and the Greek was runner-up at Roland Garros last summer as well as runner-up in Barcelona.

That clay-court quality was on immediate show in front of the packed Court 1, with Tsitsipas breaking twice to take a 4-0 lead. He did not take his foot off the pedal against a below-par Dimitrov, breaking again to take the set, 6-1 in a scant 25 minutes.

Dimitrov got off to a better start in the second set, but his break was immediately quashed by Tsitsipas. They exchanged breaks again, but now Tsitsipas made the key breakthrough to take set and match, 6-4.

As if the top seed’s route through the draw and schedule had not been hard enough, he would now play the young super-star who had taken the tour by storm this season after sweeping to the NextGen title five months ago in Milan without loss: Carlos Alcaraz.

The teenager’s reputation had been building at speed through 2021, with a quarter-final run at the US Open, the title in Umag, and three other semi finishes. All that quality, athleticism, energy and creativity was turning him into a major force as he surged from 109 in his losing debut in Barcelona last year to world No11 now.

And with former world No1 and Barcelona champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, another much-loved Spaniard of exceptional talent, now in the Alcaraz camp, it seemed as though the sky was the teenager’s limit.

Already this year he had won the Miami Masters and Rio 500, plus reaching the Indian Wells final, so little wonder he had become the prime focus in Barcelona. Indeed he would be the only man to play both his Round 3 and quarter-final on Pista Rafa Nadal.

And he was quite exceptional in the opening stages against fellow Spaniard Jaume Munar, breaking in the sixth game having pulled off winners in every department: drop shot, lob, forehand bullet, just four points dropped on serve. His qualifier opponent had to serve to stay in the first set, and did so, but Alcaraz served it out to love, 6-3, with a huge smash, his 13th winner.

He began the second set in similar style, an immediate break, and with just 70 minutes on the clock, completed his win, 6-3, to set a quarter-final showdown with Tsitsipas.

By the time Norrie had completed his marathon third-round match, first two quarter-finals were already under way, with the first set between Schwartzman and Augur-Alisassime completed. He may have heaved a sigh of relief that it needed a deciding third set. Just a little longer for the Briton to eat, recover, and try to do it all again.

Quarter-finals

Diego Schwartzman beat Felix Auger-Aliassime, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, to set a semi-final against…

Casper Ruud or Pablo Carreno Busta

Cam Norrie plays Alex de Minaur, winner to face…

Stefanos Tsitsipas or Carlos Alcaraz

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