The hinge match, day zero of the new tennis era
There are matches that surpass tournaments. This is the case of the one that Carlos Alcaraz won in the early hours of Thursday, September 8, 2022 against Jannik Sinner. It was the quarterfinals of the US Open.
It is also the case of the one Rafael Nadal won against Guillermo Coria in 2005. It was the final of the Italian Open.
Seventeen years later, those who saw that match do not forget it. Coria had it won, but Nadal prevailed. Seventeen years later, Sinner had match point, but Alcaraz won.
The memory does not go through the tournaments, it goes through those two matches. The Nadal-Coria, the Alcaraz-Sinner.
In that final in Rome, five hours and 14 minutes of a battle at a level of intensity that had never been seen before, Coria had the opportunity to become the “boss” of tennis on clay. He had just lost the 2004 Roland Garros final to Gaston Gaudio and the 2005 Monte Carlo final to Nadal.
But Rome was a new opportunity, it meant arriving in Paris with the best of impulses. The momentum would be with Nadal, who recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the fifth set to win Rome and, a month later, capture the first of his 14 Roland Garros.
What would have happened if Coria had been the champion at the Foro Italico? Perhaps, and only perhaps, the story of that 2005 in which Nadal became the master of tennis would have been somewhat different. Although the truth is that Nadal was destined to dominate tennis for many years to come. Coria, not.
And if Sinner took advantage of his match point against Alcaraz? That matters a little less. Alcaraz and Sinner have something of Nadal and Federer in terms of dueling potential. The one-handed backhand is missing, yes, but there are all the other condiments. It is a great duel.
Nadal was (is) the Latin, as is Alcaraz. Federer, from Basel, was (is) the Swiss German, while Sinner, from Süd-Tyrol, is the Italian German.
The most important thing, however, is the electricity with which the ball flies in their clashes. Just look at the head-to-head record between them, 2-2, and you can see that none of the four matches was easy: each is the other’s shoe-in.
And although Nadal has been by far the best in the Grand Slams this year (he won two of the four titles), and although Federer returns next month in Basel (and we must not forget Djokovic, despite his puzzling 2022), we are facing two overlapping eras.
That of the “big three” is still there, but in New York another one has just begun, a time impossible to understand without Alcaraz and Sinner.
Reminder for those who saw it: that game was day zero. A night that sees a point like the one the Spaniard won against the Italian can’t be anything else.
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