ROME: Carlos Alcaraz crashed to a humbling 6-3, 7-6(4) defeat by Hungarian qualifier Fabian Marozsan in the third round of the Italian Open on Monday as his quest for a third straight title on clay before the French Open ended in disappointment.
The 20-year-old had come into the tournament on the back of triumphs in Barcelona and Madrid and will replace Novak Djokovic as the world number one for top billing at Roland Garros which begins later this month.
But Alcaraz was far from his best and got off to a shaky start in his second match in Rome, dropping serve to love in the fourth game as world number 135 Marozsan built a big lead and dominated the late exchanges to easily win the opening set.
Marozsan continued to heap the pressure and broke for a 4-3 lead after Alcaraz saved three breakpoints earlier in the second set, but the 23-year-old Budapest native immediately let his opponent off the hook before forcing a tiebreak.
Alcaraz raced to a 4-1 lead but Marozsan hit back in superb style to reel off six points and hand the world number two only his second defeat on clay in 22 matches this season.
“It’s not easy to say something,” Marozsan said immediately after the biggest win of his career. “I’m very happy, I could have never imagined this. It was my dream last night.
“I said I’d try to do something special by winning a few games and maybe a set and I just beat the (soon to be) world number one, the best player in our sport now. “Everything was perfect today.” It was the first defeat for Alcaraz to a player ranked outside the world’s top 100 since the 2021 Paris Masters when he fell to Hugo Gaston.
Zheng Qinwen earlier beat Chinese compatriot Wang Xiyu 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the quarterfinals in the women’s draw while American Madison Keys lost 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 against Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina.
In late Sunday action, Novak Djokovic continued his Italian Open title defence with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 victory over Bulgarian 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov.
Djokovic, who will lose his world number one ranking at the end of the Masters 1000 tournament to Carlos Alcaraz, overcame a sluggish start and a late comeback attempt by familiar opponent Dimitrov to get over the line in their third-round meeting. Both players surrendered serve early in the first set before Djokovic raised his game to pull away for a 4-1 lead, and an 11th victory over Dimitrov in 12 meetings began to look inevitable.
Dimitrov, whose only win over the Serbian world number one came 10 years ago in Madrid, produced a tight hold but could not prevent his opponent from running away with the opening set and grabbing the advantage in the next. The former world number three did however reel off four straight games from 2-4 to take the second set and force a decider. But Djokovic responded strongly and let out a roar after securing a double break in the third set and held firm this time to advance.
Seventh seed Holger Rune was equally impressive in his 6-4, 6-2 win over local favourite Fabio Fognini and will meet Alexei Popyrin in round four after the Australian overcame Roman Safiullin 7-5 7-5. — Reuters