Carlos Alcaraz is fast making up for lost time, racing into the Australian Open’s last 16 with a quickfire dispatch of injured teenager Shang Juncheng.
The Wimbledon champion was only on court for 66 minutes on Saturday before the 18-year-old Chinese wildcard quit with a strained thigh while trailing 6-1 6-1 1-0.
Getting publicly pummelled on Rod Laver Arena – in front of Rod Laver himself after the owner of the house flew in from California to see what all the fuss was about – Shang raised the white flag a game into the third set.
It was not quite the way Alcaraz wanted to win, but the second-seeded Spanish sensation was nevertheless only too happy to stroll into the fourth round after missing last year’s Open with a leg injury.
“Last year I was watching the matches from home, from the couch, wishing to play a second week here,” Alcaraz said after winning his first-ever tour match against a younger opponent.
“This is the first time that I moved to the second week here in Australia. I was coming to the tournament this year trying to improve the result that I did in 2022.
“I did it. Now it’s time to keep going, to play better and hopefully still move more rounds.”
The two-time grand slam champion next plays Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday, after the unseeded Serb fended off two match points to drag himself into the fourth round for the second time in three years.
Kecmanovic outlasted American 14th seed Tommy Paul 6-4 3-6 2-6 7-6 (9-7) 6-0 to equal his best run at Melbourne Park.
The world No.60 also made the last 16 two years ago, under vastly different circumstances.
In 2022, Kecmanovic earned a last-minute entry into the main draw as a qualifying lucky loser after his countryman and now 10-times Open champion Novak Djokovic was sensationally deported from Australia on the eve of the tournament.
The 24-year-old has enjoyed no such favours this campaign, also going five sets in the second round and needing a match tiebreaker to see off German Jan-Lennard Struff.
Kecmanovic needed three hours, 57 minutes on Saturday to eliminate Paul, a semi-finalist last year, and book his date with Alcaraz.
“Honestly, I have no idea how I won. It was supposed to be my day today, I guess,” Kecmanovic said after overcoming 30C heat, a two-sets-to-one deficit and two match points in the fourth to stay alive.
“I had a bit more luck, played some fantastic tennis in the end and I’m really happy to be in the fourth round again.”
Exciting young Frenchman Arthur Cazaux continues to vindicate his wildcard entry, extending his inspired run with a 6-3 6-3 6-1 rout of 28th seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands.
Cazaux is the first men’s wildcard to make the second week of the Open since Denis Istomin in 2017, and only the eighth ever – emulating greats including Mats Wilander (1994) and Lleyton Hewitt (2012).
The 21-year-old Cazaux took out world No.8 Holger Rune in the previous round and will play yet another seed on Monday after reaching the second week of a grand slam for the first time.
He will face ninth-ranked Pole Hubert Hurkacz, who moved on with a 3-6 6-1 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win over another Frenchman, Ugo Humbert.