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Carlos Alcaraz Returns with AO Opening-Round Win

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain celebrates winning set point in their first-round match against Richard Gasquet of France during the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 16, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Grand Slam showstopper Carlos Alcaraz delivered drama and dynamic shotmaking to his Australian Open return.

In his 2024 debut, Alcaraz accelerated through a 7-6(5), 6-1, 6-2 triumph over French veteran Richard Gasquet to advance to the Australian Open second round.

A right leg injury prevented Alcaraz from playing the 2023 Australian Open.

Prevailing in a tight first set tonight, Alcaraz spent the next two sets streaking around the court and expanding the generation gap in defeating Gasquet for the second time in as many meetings.

“It’s always great to play here in Australia; this is my third time that I play here,” Alcaraz told John McEnroe in his on-court interview. “As I said before I didn’t have a good run when I played here, but I enjoy it a lot.

“I miss last year. Today I feel really well playing here. I enjoy playing in front of all of you. Trying to be better I think in the first set I struggle a little bit with his game, Richard is playing great as well but every set I’ve been playing better and better. At the end I feel I played quite a good level.

“Obviously Richard is a great player, but even a better person. He’s been around forever; a really really kind person. He’s an amazing player. He has a lot of talent. His backhand is amazing, crazy the way he [hits] his backhand….He’s an incredible player.”

Tennis is a sport of comings and goings.

The 20-year-old Alcaraz, who has reached two semifinals and won two major championships in his last four Grand Slam appearances, is aiming to make a finals run and regain the No. 1 ranking from 10-time AO champion Novak Djokovic. While this may well have been the 37-year-old Gasquet’s final Melbourne match.

Alcaraz improved to 12-0 lifetime in first-round Grand Slam matches. That sterling start puts him tied for second with Hall of Famer Roy Emerson on the all-time Open Era list behind legendary Hall of Famers Rod Laver, who went 15-0 in his first 15 major openers.

Wimbledon winner Alcaraz’s first match of the season was explosive—he smacked 53 winners compared to 19 for Gasquet—and also a test of his patience. Alcaraz converted just 4 of 16 break points, including going 0 for 9 on break points in the first set, and will certainly want to sharpen break-point conversions as he navigates a challenging quarter of the draw that includes a couple of threats who have beaten him before: Olympic gold-medal champion Alexander Zverev and 2023 AO semifinalist Tommy Paul.

World No. 2 Alcaraz moves on to a potentially tricky Thursday test vs. Italian Lorenzo Sonego, who stopped Dan Evans 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-2, 7-6(4).

The lanky Sonego, who owns a hard-court win over No. 1 Novak Djokovic and helped lead Italy to the Davis Cup last November, defeated Alcaraz in their lone prior encounter 6-3, 7-6(5) at the 2021 Cincinnati Masters.

Sonego says Alcaraz is a far superior player now to the teenager he faced three years ago, but suggested he will take his cracks at the Spaniard’s serve.

“I know he changed a lot the game. He’s another player,” Sonego said of Alcaraz. “He’s aggressive on court. He stay near to the line, and he want to be aggressive.

“He has a good touch, good volley, good return. I can do something on his serve. I can be aggressive. Yeah, that’s it.”

Contesting his 17th Australian Open, Gasquet showed some tremendous shot-making of his own in the opening set, twice moving within two points of a one-set lead. After Alcaraz battled through the 1 hour, 11-minute opening set, a depleted Gasquet looked a half-step slow in running rallies in suffering his sixth straight Grand Slam loss.

Bringing the energy and enthusiasm in his 2024 opener, Alcaraz threatened to break in the seventh game.

Staring down triple break point in the seventh game, Gasquet dug in and spun some wonderful one-handed backhands, roaring back to hold for 4-3.

Though Gasquet is not a massive serve, he has a quick-action motion and hit his spots on serve in the first set. Gasquet slid an ace to go up 6-5.

In the breaker, Alcaraz missed a backhand pass as Gasquet went up 5-4.

Finesse and force helped Alcaraz take charge. A forehand dropper followed by a laser beam forehand winner prompted a fired-up Alcaraz to bellow “Vamos!” earning set point.

Trying to surprise the Spaniard, Gasquet tried the serve-and-volley on a second serve and paid the price. Alcaraz attacked it and blocked a volley winner to end the sweaty, physical set.

Alcaraz fended off frustration converting chances—he was 0 of 9 on break-point chances in the opening set—carefully guided a couple of moths out of the area of play and then swatted down the Frenchman in the second and third sets.