Damien Kayat previews the round of 16 matches between Carlos Alcaraz Garfia and Cameron Norrie as well as Felix Auger Aliassime and Jannik Sinner 5 May 2022.
2022 ATP Tour
Mutua Madrid Open
Caja Magica, Madrid, Spain (Outdoor Clay)
Selected Round of 16 Matches- 5th May
Carlos Alcaraz Garfia (7) (17/100) vs Cameron Norrie (9) (39/10)
I figured that Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz Garfia would make huge strides in 2022. I didn’t anticipate that he would become arguably the world’s hottest player leading into the middle portion of the year. I don’t remember the last time I saw a player at his age look this complete.
His record for the year stands at a remarkable 24-3. That includes three ATP Tour title, including his maiden ATP 1000 title in Miami. But he has also shown brilliant court dexterity, winning clay-court titles in Rio and Barcelona. A pure shot-maker, Garfia also has the athleticism and tenacity to hang in matches where he isn’t quite at his best.
He negotiated a fairly tricky opening round match against the mercurial Nikoloz Basilashvili. The 18-year-old prodigy is going to take some stopping in front of his adoring fans.
A Real Madrid supporter, Garfia will look to feed off some of the positive juju created by Real’s brilliant comeback win over City. Forgive me for crossing the sporting streams there (and for using the generic Ghostbusters metaphor).
Cameron Norrie is the ultimate counterpuncher who has already showcased his trademark grit this week. He overcame illness in his opening match to see off a spirited display from Kwon Soon-Woo.
He then survived a typically brutish serving display from John Isner in his 2nd match. The plucky Norrie enjoyed a remarkable 2021, winning a plethora of matches and picking up two titles. This included that glorious upset victory at Indian Wells. 2022 has been yet another solid year for the British number one.
He won another title in Delray Beach before an epic run to the final in Acapulco. But his form has dipped somewhat since losing to Rafa in Mexico. He hasn’t reached beyond the quarterfinal stage since Acapulco and he will need to greatly elevate his game this week to compete with this tearaway talent.
The Verdict: Alcaraz Garfia to win in straight sets at 8/15- The Spaniard leads the head-to-head with Norrie 2-0. He is yet to drop a set against Norrie, beating him soundly at Indian Wells earlier this year. For all of Norrie’s counterpunching ability, the Spanish superstar is really a nightmare match for him. He undoubtedly has the power to dominate from the back of the court. But he also has the courtcraft to outwit Norrie should they engage in more cerebral exchanges. I can’t see any result other than a straight-sets victory for Garfia (especially when you factor in any lingering illness issues for Norrie).
Felix Auger Aliassime (8) (29/20) vs Jannik Sinner (10) (52/100)
This will surely be a Grand Slam final match in the not-too-distant future. Felix Auger Aliassime has enjoyed a breakthrough year that is yet to translate into notable clay-court success. Aliassime garnered a reputation over time as someone who couldn’t seal the deal: he lost his first eight successive ATP Finals.
But that has fortunately changed this year. I think he really got a boost by helping Canada win the ATP Cup title. This preceded a quarterfinal run at the Aussie Open and a maiden title win in Rotterdam. He followed up Rotterdam with another final defeat at the Open 13. But the switch to clay has been unrewarding for the Canadian. It’s no secret that Aliassime prefers faster surfaces. They allow him to flatten out his groundworks and dictate points. The Canadian hasn’t reached a clay-court final since 2019 and he is still yet to win a match at the French Open (he was knocked out in the first-round in each of the last two seasons).
He just thrashed clay-court aficionado Cristian Garin and may be building up a semblance of momentum.
Jannik Sinner has been irritatingly consistent this year, reaching four quarterfinals in important tournaments. He just hasn’t quite been able to string together a whole week of consistent performances. This must be frustrating for a man who won four titles in 2021. Sinner- much like Aliassime- is a player who has generally thrived on harder surfaces. I genuinely thought that he would be in for a rough ride against Speed Demon Alex Di Minaur.
This was only reinforced by his sluggish opening-round performance against Tommy Paul. But he dispatched of the Aussie in desultory fashion, taking his clay-court record for the year to 5-1. He seems to be adapting well to clay this season and will be desperate to break his recent streak of middling results.
The Verdict: Sinner to win in straight sets at 6/4- I was surprised to learn that this will be the first career meeting between these future stars. It’s incredible when you take into account how many events these two have gone deep in over the past 18 months or so.
I know this is a bit of a bold choice. But the manner in which Sinner destroyed De Minaur has turned my head. Aliassime always has the tendency to freeze (especially on this surface). I think Sinner has a little bit more variety in his game on these slower surfaces. I expect his two-handed backhand to come to the fore and give him the edge over Aliassime’s more one-dimensional, one-paced attack.