Defending champion Carlos Alcaraz extended his perfect record in 2023 to 7-0 after a fighting 6-4, 7-6(0) win over Serbian Dusan Lajovic to advance to the semi-finals of the Rio Open presented by Claro on Friday.
The 19-year-old Spaniard rallied from 2-4 in both the first and second sets before putting away the World No. 80 for the second time in as many weeks, having beaten the 29-year-old 6-4, 6-2 in the Buenos Aires quarter-finals.
Despite clubbing 32 winners to Lajovic’s 13 and winning 16 of 17 net approaches, Alcaraz will not be entirely happy with his performance after forcing himself to work harder than perhaps needed for victory. In addition to going down breaks in both sets and making 25 unforced errors, the Spaniard was broken at 5-all in the second despite holding a 40/0 lead in the game.
The former World No. 1 was forced to save a set point with some inspired play at net in the following game before running away with the win in the tie-break.
“That’s the point… to find a way to come back against a tough opponent,” Alcaraz said. “I had to be really focussed and be there all the time waiting for my chances.”
Closing in on back-to-back titles after triumphing in Buenos Aires last week in his season debut, the World No. 2 will meet Chilean qualifier Nicolas Jarry on Saturday.
Should he win his eighth tour-level title Sunday, Alcaraz will join World No. 1 Novak Djokovic with 7,070 points in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. But the 10-time Australian Open champion will remain atop the rankings because he has earned more points at mandatory events during the past 52 weeks.
Earlier in the day second seed Cameron Norrie kept alive the possibility of a final showdown with Alcaraz for the second consecutive week after he rallied from a set down to defeat Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. But he will be looking for a sharper start Saturday against Spaniard Bernabe Zapata Miralles, who reached his second consecutive semi-final after taking out countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
“I didn’t start too well, was missing a lot of returns and not making points physical like I wanted to,” Norrie said. “[After the first set] I needed to be patient with myself. I’m not sure what happened but I didn’t make a lot of returns and missed a couple of first balls on my serve, which is uncharacteristic. I just hung in there and stepped it up when I needed to.”
The Briton had a mixed day on serve. He won a commanding 84 per cent of points on his first serve but had trouble at times with his toss and threw in seven double faults, including two on match points in the final game of the match.
”I felt I hit my spots better than I did yesterday,” Norrie said. “I had a couple of double faults but he was really putting a lot of pressure on my second and maybe I went after it a little too much. But I’m not worried about it. I just need to come out a little stronger tomorrow and make it more physical like I did in Thiago in the second round.”
Chilean qualifier Jarry used his heavy groundstrokes to rip 28 winners to Sebastian Baez’s six in a 6-3, 7-6(3) win over the two-time ATP Tour Argentine titlist. Jarry, who has not dropped a set this week, came into the tournament ranked 139, but has surged 54 places in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings to No. 85.
Jarry’s first-serve percentage dropped below 50 in the second set and he knows that he can’t afford to give Alcaraz a look at so many second serves on Saturday. “My approach against Carlos will be the same as it has been all week: be aggressive and play my game. But I’ll need to serve better. Carlos will be able to attack my second serve more than Sebastian, who stands deep in the court to return.”
Jarry is looking to advance to a tour-level final for the first time since 2019, when he won his lone ATP Tour title in Bastad and finished runner-up in Geneva in a season in which he reached his career-high ranking of No. 38.