He had not played an official match in Europe since lifting the Wimbledon title in July and Carlos Alcaraz’s return to the Old Continent this Tuesday left much to be desired. The Murcian, in one of the worst matches of the year, has to go home completely surprised when he fell to the Russian Roman Safiullin (6-3 and 6-4) in his debut at the Paris-Bercy Masters 1,000, the penultimate stop in the season for the Spanish champion.
The El Palmar tennis player also complicates his chances of ending the year as number one in the world and misses the possibility of achieving the third Masters 1,000 of the season, after Indian Wells and Madrid. His next stop will be the ATP Finals in Turin (November 12 to 19), where he will compete for first place in the world rankings with Novak Djokovic, although he will practically need a miracle.
And the possibility of adding in a tournament with a bad memory – last year he retired in the quarterfinals with an abdominal tear – disappeared at the first opportunity. Safiullin, who had three victories on these tracks, coming from the previous phase, stopped a confused and clumsy Alcaraz in his tracks. He committed more than twenty unforced errors, lost his serve four times and barely generated fifteen winners.
The doubts that he raised on the Shanghai track at the beginning of October and that multiplied later, when he decided to leave Basel due to physical problems, surfaced again this Tuesday. And this despite the fact that the start of the game was good. «I just didn’t feel good on the court. I have a lot of things to improve, a lot of things to train, and I didn’t feel good about the game. I think I didn’t move well and I think the blows were of good quality, but, physically, in the movement part I have to improve a lot,” he said after the match.
In fact, it was Alcaraz who started with the advantage, but in what would be the trend of the entire match, he was unable to hold it. The Murcian went from 2-1 and serving to being 5-3 down and with Safiullin comfortably serving to take the set. Not even at that moment did the Russian’s hand shake, as he has never entered the top 40 in the rankings and has no title under his belt.
One of his best-known anecdotes is when he forgot to sign up for the last Masters 1,000 in Madrid and had to watch it from home. This time, the Russian had few mistakes, who was only disrupted by a problem with the lights at the beginning of the second set that had the match stopped for a few minutes.
Once the action resumed, Alcaraz seemed to react and the same thing happened to him as in the first set. He took advantage, pretended to accelerate, but his engine seized. He chained unforced error after unforced error and despite the shouts of “Carlos, Carlos!” that came from the stands, his spirit was at rock bottom.
Firm pulse of the Russian
At the fourth break opportunity that Safiullin had, he took the definitive advantage in the second set and headed towards a victory in which his pulse did not tremble. He did not face any break points while serving to win the first set or close out the match. It was the most important victory of Safiullin’s career and a blow to Alcaraz’s indoor season. After three tournaments, the balance is a semifinals in Beijing, quarterfinals in Shanghai and second round in Paris-Bercy.
The Spaniard will only have one bullet left, his first ATP Finals, the ones he missed last year when he injured his abdominal at the Paris event. Djokovic, who will debut this Wednesday against Tallon Griekspoor, is now the clear favorite to win in Paris and retain world number one for the eighth time at the end of the year.
The world number two believes he has “time” to improve before facing the ATP Finals in Turin and “being able to reach the level” he wants. «But right now I am not in the right moment to talk. Honestly, after the defeat, I have to take some time before thinking about the next few days and what I have to do or am going to do, but we have time before the Finals,” commented the player, who says he does not know the reasons for his current downturn.