He had been walking on water since the beginning of the year. The ocher dust of Roland-Garros suddenly brought him back down to earth. New headliner of world tennis, the Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz left the Parisian Grand Slam tournament in the quarter-finals on Tuesday May 31, eliminated by the German Alexander Zverev (6-4, 6-4, 4-6 , 7-6).

Before the gala match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the evening, (TV) spectators had the right to an enticing appetizer on paper. “The best player in the world” of the moment according to his opponent of the day, whom he had beaten three weeks ago in Madrid, the 19-year-old Spaniard learned the hard way how much a favorite status in a Grand Slam tournament weighed heavy.

On the Philippe-Chatrier court bathed in light, the German took control from the start of the game, facing a too imprecise Carlos Alcaraz, his forehand remaining abnormally in his racket (16 unforced errors in the first set). Serene, the reigning Olympic champion could count on his master weapon, his service, and distributed the game from the baseline. Carlos Alcaraz, whose science of the game impresses observers despite his young age, was at a loss for a solution.

Ostensibly annoyed by his level of play, Juan Carlos Ferrero’s protege was out of first balls and confused speed and haste, hampered by his opponent’s heavy and deep strikes. The “vamos Carlitos” did not change anything, the second set saw the scenario of the first repeat itself.

Zverev tout and self control

After a hair-raising start to the spring, which propelled him to the gates of the top 5 in the world, the Murcian, on Tuesday, was suddenly showing his age. Impulsive, unable to control his frustration and reverse the situation, unlike an Alexander Zverev until then all in self control. Until 4-4 in the 3rd set, where he saved a break point and took the service of the German for the first time to pick up two sets to one.

The Spaniard began to deliver a festival of amortizations, his cute sin, and finally began to let go of his punches, with a clenched fist. He dropped his face-off at the worst moment, at 4-4, before grabbing his opponent’s and then taking him to the tiebreak where the two players competed in skill. Carlos Alcaraz saved a first match point, not the second. Alexander Zverev could evacuate all his rage wisely contained throughout the match.

Winner in quick succession in Barcelona, ​​in April, then Madrid, at the beginning of May, Carlos Alcaraz had checked the appointment of the Porte d’Auteuil by assuming his change of dimension. Twelve months ago, the kid from El Palmar had earned his place in the main draw at Roland-Garros through qualifying and had just made the Top 100. “This time, I think people will see me as favourite, but I don’t take that as an additional pressure, rather as a source of motivation. I believe I’m ready to win a Grand Slam,” he said after winning the title in Madrid.

Proof of his maturity despite his young age (he celebrated his 19th birthday on May 5), he had adjusted his calendar by giving up at the last moment at the Masters 1000 in Rome, traditional dress rehearsal for the Parisian Grand Slam, to preserve his right ankle. twisted in Madrid’s Caja Magica. In the Spanish capital, Alcaraz had scored a big blow by beating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. A first in the same tournament on ochre.

Most successful match for Zverev

“For guys like Novak [Djokovic], Rafa [Nadal] and Roger [Federer], they want it so badly that it’s obvious to them. But I’ve been in this position, dreaming of winning a Grand Slam, and I think it’ll be interesting to see how the newbies like Carlos Alcaraz fare,” said on the eve of the start of the Paris tournament. Alexander Zverev, who had never beaten a Top 10 Grand Slam before.

Finalist at the US Open in 2020, semi-finalist in New York and here in 2021, the German will try Friday, June 3 to win his ticket for his first final Porte d’Auteuil. “It was tough, but I knew I had to play at my best. Carlos is amazing. He will win this tournament many times, and I was hoping to take my chance before it starts, “said the winner of the day at the microphone of Alex Corretja, who will face Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.

So far, he had had a complicated start to the fortnight. At the edge of the void against the Argentinean Sebastian Baez in the second round (2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5), the world No. 3 had not impressed in the following matches against two opponents well within reach, respectively 75th and 131st in the world: the American Brandon Nakashima (7-6, 6-3, 7-6) and the Spaniard Bernabe Zapata Miralles (7-6, 7-5, 6-3 ).

“At the start of my career, I had a lot of trouble with the Grand Slams, admitted Zverev this week. I was winning in one tournament, and then I was struggling in the next. I hope I can continue to stay stable in the future. »

For Carlos Alcaraz, the return to earth will be painful to take. But we would be wrong to forget that at 19, his story with Roland-Garros has barely begun.