NEW YORK (AP) — Even if Carlos Alcaraz was by no means perfect during a victory in the U.S. Open's third round Saturday — he dropped a set, after all — the defending champion produced enough bits of brilliance to keep himself smiling and prompt his opponent, Dan Evans, to chuck his racket a couple of times.
Less than 12 hours after the man he's expected to meet next weekend for the title, Novak Djokovic, needed to fashion a comeback from a two-set deficit to win, Alcaraz progressed to the fourth round at Flushing Meadows for the third consecutive year by beating the 26th-seeded Evans 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Alcaraz, the No. 1 seed, showed off a variety of his considerable collection of skills, generating the sorts of highlights that both he and his fans have come to expect.
“We play to make the people happy, as well, to entertain them and try to make the match fun," said Alcaraz, who won his second Grand Slam title by edging Djokovic in July's Wimbledon final. "It’s great to have those kind of points, as well, and to feel the energy that they enjoy.”
The 20-year-old Spaniard is trying to become the first man to win two titles in a row in New York since Roger Federer took five straight from 2004-08.
“I would love to be part of tournament history with Roger,” Alcaraz said. “That’s my main goal right now and I'm looking for that.”
Next for Alcaraz is a matchup against Matteo Arnaldi, a 22-year-old Italian ranked 61st. Arnaldi, who had won a grand total of one Grand Slam match before this tournament, reached the fourth round by eliminating No. 16 seed Cameron Norrie of Britain 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
In another early result Saturday, Jack Draper, a 21-year-old left-hander from Britain ranked 123rd, made the round of 16 at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over American wild-card entry Michael Mmoh.
No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka — who has a chance to overtake Iga Swiatek at No. 1 in the rankings depending on the rest of their U.S. Open results — continued her smooth march through the bracket by defeating Clara Burel of France 6-1, 6-1.
Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion in January, has dropped a total of just 12 games through three matches so far.
Sabalenka now takes on No. 13 Daria Kasatkina, a 2022 French Open semifinalist, who returns to the fourth round in New York for the first time in six years after getting past Greet Minnen of Belgium 6-3, 6-4.
No. 17 Madison Keys, the 2017 runner-up at Flushing Meadows, came back to defeat No. 14 Liudmila Samsonova 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, and will play No. 3 Jessica Pegula or No. 26 Elina Svitolina for a quarterfinal berth.
AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis
Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press