Carlos Alcaraz.
Carlos Alcaraz has never previously faced a younger player in 200 tour matches. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • tennis

Alcaraz set for first-time test from Chinese young gun

Callum Godde January 20, 2024

Carlos Alcaraz will wade into uncharted waters as the two-time grand slam champion vies to enter the Australian Open’s second week.

When the 20-year-old superstar meets Juncheng Shang on Saturday, it will mark his first contest against a younger player across his 200-match tour career.

A year on from making the second round at Melbourne Park, 18-year-old Shang has gone one better in 2024 with wins over American Mackenzie McDonald and Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal.

The Chinese teenager is in red-hot form, having also beaten world No.17 Frances Tiafoe on his way to a first ATP Tour semi-final in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Chinese teenager Juncheng Shang in Australian Open action.
 China’s Juncheng Shang says he has “low expectations” for his third-round clash with Carlos Alcaraz. Image by EPA PHOTO 

Alcaraz said he had followed Shang’s deep run in Hong Kong but was planning to study his rival’s more recent matches in a bid to avoid a boilover.

“What I’ve seen so far from him, he’s an unbelievable player,” said the Spanish second seed.

“He’s ready to make a good result. I have to be focused on that, and I will prepare as best as I can.”

Alcaraz, who missed last year’s Australian Open through injury, has never been beyond the third round at Melbourne Park.

Seven-time major champion turned commentator John McEnroe suggested the Spaniard was below his scintillating best in Thursday’s four-set win over Italian Lorenzo Sonego.

“That was the ‘B’ Carlos Alcaraz, but he did what he had to do,” McEnroe said on Eurosport.

Shang, who counts Alcaraz’s compatriot Rafael Nadal among his biggest idols, is approaching the Rod Laver Arena encounter as a learning opportunity.

“(I have) low expectations … just to enjoy every point, every moment out there, try to learn,” he said.

“(Alcaraz) is a little bit older than me, already one of the best players on tour. It’s going to be great. I’m going to have fun.”

World No.1 Iga Swiatek.
 Iga Swiatek’s clash with Linda Noskova will be one of the highlights of day seven at the Open. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Whatever happens, China will have a woman through to the last 16 on Saturday, as 12th seed Qinwen Zheng and Emma Raducanu-slayer Yafan Wang face off in round three.

World No.1 Iga Swiatek’s clash with Czech Linda Noskova, and two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka’s date with Latvia’s No.11 seed Jelena Ostapenko headline the women’s singles action on day seven.

On the men’s side, world No.3 Daniil Medvedev backs up from his late-finishing five-set victory against Canada’s No.27 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, while Olympic champion Alexander Zverev tackles American Alex Michelsen.