Misc Tennis

Alcaraz overcomes hiccup to beat Humbert, enters quarterfinals

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.

See-saw: Alcaraz drifted in and out of the contest, in line with his recent form, but pulled through. | Photo: Reuters
| Photo Credit: PAUL CHILDS

The ‘Middle Sunday’ holiday at Wimbledon was delightfully anachronistic. The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club thought that the break was necessary to allow the pristine grass courts a breather. But many saw it as an extravagance when sports worldwide were trying to cram in as much action as possible.

But from 2022, the recess has ceased to exist, owing to “advances in grass technology and maintenance.” And with that went the famed ‘Manic Monday’ when all 16 singles fourth-round matches would be held at one go. Instead of a single-day barrage, the excellence was to be evenly spread out over two days.

At the 2024 edition, this responsibility first fell to defending champion Carlos Alcaraz and 16th seed Ugo Humbert. The duo passed the test — not quite with flying colours, but good enough to keep the capacity crowd riveted — before Alcaraz came through 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.

On Sunday, the Centre Court alternatively shimmered under the sunlight that the translucent roof allowed and trembled when thunderous rain badgered the canopy. The tennis mimicked it. Alcaraz drifted in and out of the contest, in line with his recent form, and so did Humbert, who was in the fourth round for the first time since his debut performance in 2019.

The two spent the first four games sizing up each other, with Humbert attempting to dictate with his serve and Alcaraz trying to slice and dice his way through. The Spaniard stepped it up midway, breaking Humbert to 3-2, and came back from 0-30 down to hold to 4-2. Another break in the ninth game, courtesy a splendid backhand winner and an inch-perfect inside-out forehand, gave Alcaraz the set 6-3.

The second stanza was as up and down. Alcaraz managed to erase four break-point opportunities in the fifth game before breaking Humbert in the 10th to take a 2-0 lead. The set-point was particularly vivid, for Alcaraz ran everything down and even did a split to retrieve a ball. It broke Humbert’s resolve as he sent an easy volley out.

Humbert took a time-out and by the time he stepped back on to the court, Alcaraz was ready to serve. But the 21-year-old soon realised that such urgency was misplaced. Humbert, who has a big grass-court title to his name (Halle, 2021), showcased his full repertoire — with the one-two punch and the immaculate drop volley standing out…

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