It was the latest finish ever at the U.S. Open, played in a city that purportedly never sleeps, but Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner made it well worth staying up into the wee hours.
In one of the best (and longest) matches ever contested at this Grand Slam tournament in New York, Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish prodigy, fought off a match point in the fourth set to defeat Sinner, the 21-year-old Italian prodigy, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3, to advance to the semifinals.
“I always say you have to believe in yourself all the time, and that hope is the last thing you lose,” Alcaraz said in his on-court interview early Thursday morning. “I just believed in myself and believed in my game.”
Instant coffee was surely not required to make it to the finish of this instant-classic quarterfinal, which lasted five hours and 15 minutes and finished at 2:50 a.m., 24 minutes later than the previous record shared by three matches.
The suspense and tension was that constant; the quality of the shotmaking and the effort that transcendent.
Alcaraz, seeded third, and Sinner, seeded 11th, have long been considered the future of tennis, but they looked much more like the present after the match started on Wednesday night, setting a torrid pace from the baseline and chasing down each other’s drop shots and would-be winners.
But only Alcaraz, an acrobatic speedster from Murcia, will have a chance to make his big breakthrough at this unusually wide-open tournament. He will face Frances Tiafoe of the United States on Friday in what will be the first Grand Slam semifinal for both men. In the other semifinal, Casper Ruud of Norway will face Karen Khachanov of Russia.
None of those four men have won a major singles title: no dishonor and no surprise in a long-running era that has long been dominated by the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
But neither Federer nor Djokovic played this year in New York, and Nadal, short on matches and perhaps even a little short on inspiration after a taxing season, was upset in the fourth round by Tiafoe, a flashy 24-year-old who is the first American man since Andy Roddick in 2006 to advance this far at his home Grand Slam event.
Tiafoe will surely have the majority of the support in Arthur Ashe Stadium, with its capacity of nearly 28,000. He will also have the advantage of extra rest.
His three-set match with Andrey Rublev was played in the day session, which allowed Tiafoe to settle in for the evening at his hotel as Alcaraz and Sinner pushed each other historically deep into the night.
The match was the second longest ever played at the U.S. Open, behind only the 1992 semifinal between Stefan Edberg and Michael Chang, won by Edberg in five hours and 26 minutes.
But Alcaraz looked anything but pessimistic as he tapped his chest and thanked the few thousand fans who stayed until the finish, signing autographs before he headed back to the tunnel with the digital clock on the court showing that it was just about 3 a.m.