Wimbledon 2024: Carlos Alcaraz survives huge scare to beat Frances Tiafoe in five-set epic on Centre Court

Wimbledon 2024: Carlos Alcaraz survives huge scare to beat Frances Tiafoe in five-set epic on Centre Court

Frances Tiafoe vowed to “go to war” with Carlos Alcaraz and, over the course of nearly four hours under the Centre Court roof, he duly delivered.

And still it was not enough. A big show from ‘Big Foe’ fell short of producing an even bigger upset, defending Wimbledon champion Alcaraz surviving an almighty scare to to win 5-7 6-2 4-6 7-6 6-2 and reach the fourth round at SW19. The very closing stages of the final set became largely comfortable for Alcaraz, but it had until then been anything but.

Alcaraz beat the American in a five-set epic at the US Open in 2022 on his way to the title at Flushing Meadows, and the Spaniard will be hoping a similarly thrilling win over Tiafoe here bodes will for more Grand Slam success. He will next face either Brandon Nakashima or Ugo Humbert, while a semi-final showdown with world number one Jannik Sinner remains a possibility after the Italian’s win over Miomir Kecmanovic later in the day.

There were smiles throughout Centre Court’s opening match, and not just from a crowd revelling in an absorbing contest. These are two players who visibly wear their joy even in the tightest of tussles, fuelled by a desire to not just compete but to perform.

It was Alcaraz who landed the first blow in the opening set, after both had rushed through their early service games. Having just saved a break point, the Spaniard broke himself in the following game, whipping a forehand winner past Tiafoe for a 4-2 lead.

The American hit straight back, though, breaking as Alcaraz sent a tame forehand into the net. The Alcaraz serve was coming under real pressure and he battled his way to a hold after saving three break points, but more soon came for Tiafoe and he was not to be denied. From 30-0 he produced a stunning four-point run to break and lead 6-5, kicked off by two brilliant volleys and sealed as consecutive returns landed bang on the baseline. A hold to love later and Tiafoe was a set in front.

Tiafoe could not help but grin in the second set after one exquisite volley from Alcaraz, the pair seemingly enjoying a separate contest to outdo each other at the net, but a grimace had emerged by the end of the game. A timely first serve from Tiafoe saved one break point, but he then netted a backhand as Alcaraz moved 4-2 in front.

That was not an advantage he let slip this time, holding and then piling on the pressure as Tiafoe served to extend the set. The American was left flat on his back as he slipped, the court empty for Alcaraz to bring up a set point, before the Spaniard strolled over to help his opponent up. The pair were both sitting down within seconds, as Alcaraz levelled the match with a glorious backhand pass.

Carlos Alcaraz was pushed all the way by Frances Tiafoe on Centre Court (Getty Images)
Carlos Alcaraz was pushed all the way by Frances Tiafoe on Centre Court (Getty Images)

Any suggestion that Alcaraz would now pull away was swatted aside as Tiafoe brought up two break points to start the third set, though both came and went. More chances arrived at 3-3, as Alcaraz pulled a forehand wide to bring up two break points, and after a rally of drop shots, net cords and, finally, an overcooked tweener lob from the Spaniard, Tiafoe had his break.

A first set point disappeared with the swing of a wild backhand, but the second was taken as Tiafoe marched to his chair, conducting the Centre Court crowd in raucous applause.

Eight games, eight relatively routine holds and the tension ratcheted up in the fourth set. Alcaraz was a break away from potentially forcing a decider, Tiafoe the same from victory. At 4-4, 0-30, the door began to open for Tiafoe, but Alcaraz’s serve and forehand swiftly slammed it shut again.

To a tie-break. An early mini break brought a huge fist pump and cry of ‘vamos’ from Alcaraz, and he then called for more noise after dispatching a forehand winner. He led 5-1 at the changeover, Tiafoe’s problems added to by a nasty slip to test an already strapped right knee. Four set points were brought up - Alcaraz needed just one.

A run of 18 games without a break came to an end early in the decider, as Alcaraz made his move. Facing two break points, Tiafoe moved to the net to force the issue but opted to leave the backhand pass from Alcaraz and watched it land in. The Spaniard was now in charge and soon had a 4-1 lead, sealing a double break with a sublime drop shot.

He stepped up to serve for the match at 5-2 and motored over the line, the finishing touch a typically exquisite one. The battle was won, but Alcaraz’s Wimbledon war will be settled over the next nine days.

There were no such stresses for Sinner, perhaps the chief threat to Alcaraz’s hopes of going back-to-back at Wimbledon.

The top seed dropped a set in each of the opening two rounds but was in ruthless mood on Friday night, easing to a 6-1 6-4 6-2 victory over Kecmanovic on Centre Court.

It took six games for Kecmanovic to get on the board in the first set, narrowly avoiding a bagel, but he held his own in a more competitive second. Sinner broke in the eighth game, though, and served out the set, on his way to cruising into the fourth round.

Sinner faced just one break point all match, which he saved, and he will take on Ben Shelton or Denis Shapovalov next.