In his first ATP Tour match since defeating Novak Djokovic to win his first Wimbledon title, World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz survived a tough test against Ben Shelton on Wednesday evening, defeating the big-hitting American 6-3, 7-6(3) to advance to the third round of the National Bank Open presented by Rogers.
“Honestly, I enjoyed a lot my first match here in Toronto, and [it was] like I have played here for many, many years,” Alcaraz said with his signature smile during his post-match press conference. “I never played against someone that hit the ball as hard as he hit. It’s something crazy. [He hit] some serves at 235 [kph]. Honestly, I almost broke my string. He’s really, really tough; he’s a real aggressive one. He didn’t let me play my game that is aggressive, going to the net.”
Read also: Alcaraz Survives Seed Exodus
Indeed, Alcaraz had his work cut out for him from the start. With Shelton immediately implementing an aggressive game plan and playing like he had nothing to lose, the top seed was forced to save three break points in his opening service game — the only break points he faced all match — and earned a decisive break in the fourth game to move within one set of the round of 16.
Shelton, to his credit, continued to apply pressure on Alcaraz, confidently holding each of his service games in the second without facing a break point and forcing the World No. 1 to come up with some big plays at 30-all in multiple games. In the end, the American was unable to produce the same kind of tennis in the tiebreak, narrowly missing an inside-out forehand and double-faulting to fall down two mini-breaks.
“It was tough to get my rhythm. As I said, he hits the ball so, so strong, so I couldn’t find my game,” Alcaraz said. “For me, it’s better to start a tournament with good rallies, long ones to get into the match, get into the rallies. But usually every match is a different war, and you have to adapt your game into that. But [I’m] really happy to get through and have another opportunity to be a little bit better in the next round.”
The Spaniard, who is on a 13-match winning streak dating back to his championship run at the Queen’s Club and now improves to a 48-4 record in 2023, will kick off Thursday’s night session against No. 15 seed Hubert Hurkacz, who hit 25 aces and rallied from a set down to defeat Miomir Kecmanovic earlier in the day. Alcaraz and Hurkacz have met just once before, with the former coming out on top in two tiebreak sets at the Miami Open last year.
Earlier in the day, Alcaraz ran into five-time Grand Slam champion and former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s UNMATCHED: Gender Equity in Sports Conference at the Paramount EventSpace in Woodbridge.
Read also: Raonic Clinic on Serve to Reach Last Sixteen
Alcaraz revealed that he grew up watching a lot of Sharapova’s matches. “She was a great tennis player. She was probably one of the best players in the world, and I was in shock because I didn’t expect her to be here in Toronto. And she was first in the lift and it was, ‘She is Maria or no?’” he recalled with a laugh. “But it was great to meet her and know that she's [doing] really well and talk a little bit with her. It was really nice.”