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Alcaraz hits his stride to sink gutsy Gasquet at Australian Open

Storm Sanders was Australia’s hero after she won the first singles rubber before returning for the deciding doubles match alongside 38-year-old Samantha Stosur.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain celebrates after defeating Richard Gasquet of France in their first-round match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 16, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

Carlos Alcaraz made a winning return to the Australian Open on January 16 but the Spanish second seed faced some early resistance from French veteran Richard Gasquet before cruising to a 7-6(5) 6-1 6-2 victory in the opening round.

The muscular 20-year-old, who skipped last year’s tournament with a right leg issue, appeared overly exuberant at times as he sought quick progress at Melbourne Park but composed himself to grind down his seasoned opponent and blow him away.

“It’s always great to play here in Australia, it’s the third time that I’m playing here,” said Alcaraz, who will meet Italian Lorenzo Sonego in the second round.

“I didn’t have a good run in the years that I’ve played here but I enjoyed it a lot today. I missed last year and felt really good playing here.

“I struggled a little bit in the first set with his game but every set I’ve been playing a bit better and in the end I was at a good level.”

Gasquet looked like he had just taken a dip in the nearby Yarra river for much of the first set as Alcaraz made him sweat for points but the 37-year-old held firm and drew level at 3-3 in the tiebreak with a breathtaking backhand winner.

However, Alcaraz raised his level from there to go a set up and the floodgates opened as the Wimbledon champion racked up a 3-0 lead in the next before doubling his advantage in the match, showcasing a mix of explosive forehands and deft shots.

With Gasquet fading, Alcaraz stepped up another gear on a balmy evening on Rod Laver Arena for the early break in the third set and settled the contest on serve, finishing with a fiery ace out wide on his fifth match point.

Alcaraz, whose coach Juan Carlos Ferrero is not in Melbourne after undergoing surgery, was the final player to make it into the second round after an opening round spanning three days.

His win also meant 30 of the 32 men’s seeds won their opening match. Asked about the new schedule, Alcaraz said: “I think it’s better for the players, and better for everyone.

“For the crowd to have more days to have matches, for the tournament as well. I think for the players who play the first day, they have more days rest.

“I think it’s a really good format.”

One interested spectator was Australian maverick Nick Kyrgios who was commentating for Eurosport…

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