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French Open

Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz renew their rivalry in French Open semi final

Jannik Sinner is just 22, and Carlos Alcaraz just 21, yet they’ve already built quite a rivalry heading into their French Open semifinal on Friday.

Spain’s Alcaraz owns two Grand Slam titles and spent time at No. 1 in the rankings. Italy’s Sinner won the Australian Open in January and will ascend to No. 1 next week. This will be their ninth meeting; the series is tied at 4-all.

“No one has ever played like Alcaraz. No chance. And Sinner? The same thing,” said Mats Wilander, who was ranked No. 1 and won three of his seven Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros in the 1980s.

“They’re like, ‘Whoa! What and where did they come from?’”

The other men’s semifinal Friday is No. 7 Casper Ruud, twice the runner-up in Paris — to Rafael Nadal in 2022 and to Novak Djokovic in 2023 — against No. 4 Alexander Zverev, a finalist at the 2020 U.S. Open, an Olympic gold medalist and into the final four at Roland Garros for the fourth consecutive year.

Not a bad matchup, either. But it’s No. 2 Sinner vs. No. 3 Alcaraz capturing all of the buzz.

That’s because they are widely considered the likely next two greats of the game and because of how exciting some of their past contests have been, most notably Alcaraz’s victory in the U.S. Open quarterfinals two years ago that ended at 2:50 a.m. after five sets of thrill-a-minute, back-and-forth action.

“I hope he and I keep playing each other for the next 10 years,” said Alcaraz, who went on to win the championship in New York that year and also triumphed at Wimbledon last year. “He makes me a better player. He makes me wake up in the morning and try to improve.”

Alcaraz arrived in Paris with some concerns about his right forearm. Sinner came in nursing a hip injury. Those issues kept them out of the clay-court Italian Open last month, but they have looked just fine at the French Open: Each has dropped just one set through five matches.

They seem to bring out the best in one another while forging a new path in their sport. Both can cover the court as well as anyone, the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Sinner with his instincts and lanky limbs and the 6-foot (1.83-meter) Alcaraz with his “How did he possibly get to that?” fleetness and reflexes.

Both are capable of hammering the ball, eliciting gasps from spectators. Both are all-court players with admirable variety (Alcaraz’s drop shots, for example, might just be the best in men’s tennis). Both elicit heaps of praise from opponents.

Alcaraz was asked what it’s like to face Sinner.

“Well, you have to run like it is a marathon, side-to-side. I think he has nothing bad. Everything he does, he does it perfectly. The way that he hits the ball is unbelievable. The way he moves — really, really well. He pushes you to the limit on every ball, on every point. I think it is the hardest thing to face Jannik,” Alcaraz said.

“At the same time, I love that,” he continued. “I love these kind of matches. I love this kind of challenge. … I love to find solutions, to find a way to beat him.”

Alcaraz won their most recent encounter, in a semifinal on a hard court at Indian Wells, California, in March on the way to the title there. That ended a 19-match winning streak for Sinner.

“He showed already so many things that, for sure, you are always impressed when you play against him,” Sinner said.

And like Alcaraz, Sinner relishes how even their on-court history has been so far.

“This makes things really fun, no?” Sinner said after that loss at Indian Wells. “Maybe there (will be a) day where one of us wins three, four times in a row. Then (one) or the other … has to try to adjust a little bit, trying completely new things.”

Credit: AP

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