PARIS (AP) — Some friendly advice, sports fans: If Carlos Alcaraz is playing, do not look away. Even for a moment. Because it’s likely he’ll conjure up some sort of highlight-worthy mix of ability, athleticism and awareness that drops the jaw.
Anyone who’s watched him play lately knows this. Anyone who’s played against him lately knows this. And he knows this. Which is why the No. 1-ranked Alcaraz himself acknowledged through that now-familiar smile that he’ll glance up at the stadium video boards “a lot of times” to see a replay of what he just did.
Up to his usual tricks at Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday, Alcaraz mixed a bit of this — a back-to-the-net ’tweener lob — and a bit of that — a full-sprint-then-slide wide of the doubles alley for a backhand winner at a seemingly impossible angle — along the way to reaching the French Open quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 17 seed Lorenzo Musetti of Italy.
“Today he showed,” Musetti said, “that he probably can win this tournament.”
First things first. Next for Alcaraz, a 20-year-old from Spain who won the U.S. Open in September, comes what could be a tougher test: His quarterfinal opponent will be No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, a two-time major runner-up who advanced by beating qualifier Sebastian Ofner 7-5, 6-3, 6-0.
Win that, and Alcaraz could find himself in a semifinal against Novak Djokovic. He broke a tie with rival Rafael Nadal by reaching the French Open quarterfinals for the record 17th time, never truly in trouble during a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Juan Pablo Varillas.
“Well, I’m proud of it, but my attention is already on the next match,” said Djokovic, who now meets No. 11 Karen Khachanov. “I know what my goal is here. I’m trying to stay, mentally, the course and of course not look too far.”
That's because Djokovic is closing on bettering Nadal in a more prestigious category: Grand Slam singles championships. Both currently sit at 22. For Djokovic, that total includes two at Roland Garros, in 2016 and 2021, and he can become the first man to own at least three trophies from each major tournament.
Nadal is a 14-time champion in Paris but is missing this time because of a hip injury; he had arthroscopic surgery Friday night that is expected to sideline him for the rest of the year.
“I really hope that his rehabilitation process can go well and that we can see him next season. He's so important for our game, on and off the court, one of the greatest legends of tennis in the history of the game,” Djokovic said. “We want to see a healthy Rafa, no question about it.”
The No. 3-seeded Djokovic is this far for the 14th time in a row at the French Open and for the 55th time overall at all majors. Roger Federer, who retired with 58, is the only man to reach more.
Djokovic takes an 8-1 head-to-head mark into Tuesday's meeting with Khachanov, who defeated Lorenzo Sonego 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-1.
“He's one of the toughest tasks, toughest opponents,” Khachanov said about Djokovic, “and you cannot count him out.”
Elina Svitolina, participating in her first Slam since having a baby in October, made her way into the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 7-6 (5) win against No. 9 Daria Kasatkina, who was in the final four in Paris a year ago. Svitolina, who is from Ukraine, skipped the postmatch handshake against her Russian opponent because of the ongoing war; Kasatkina offered a thumbs-up to Svitolina.
Svitolina goes up against No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion. Sabalenka grabbed the first five games and the last nine points of a topsy-turvy 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens at night.
Sabalenka led 5-0, then suddenly Stephens pulled even at 5-5. But Sabalenka took the last two points of that opening set. Then, in the second, Stephens was serving at 4-all, 40-love — and wouldn't take another point. Sabalenka was the one determining the outcome of most exchanges: She finished with far more winners (24-5) and far more unforced errors (40-19).
Two unseeded women will play each other in another quarterfinal: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 runner-up at Roland Garros, and Karolina Muchova.
Pavlyuchenkova, who missed last year’s tournament as part of a lengthy absence with a knee injury, got past a third consecutive seeded opponent, No. 28 Elise Mertens, by a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 score. Muchova was a 6-4, 6-4 winner against Elina Avanesyan, who lost in qualifying but got into the main draw when another player withdrew.
Ottawa's Gabriela Dabrowski and American partner Nathaniel LAmmons advanced to the third round of the mixed doubles tournament after Taylor Townsend of the U.S. and Jamie Murray of the United Kingdom walked over.
In Musetti, Alcaraz was taking on someone who won their only previous matchup, in a clay-court final at the Hamburg Open last year. Musetti also had not dropped a set through three matches in Paris.
But this was a significant step up in competition.
Alcaraz accumulated a 42-17 edge in total winners, while managing to make the same number of unforced errors, 23.
He could pick and choose how to undo Musetti's game. Hit behind him along the baseline. Hit right at him too powerfully to allow a reply. Hit a forehand passing shot down the line that appeared headed wide before curling in. Hit the softest drop volleys imaginable, so they'd arrive and barely bounce.
“Certain shots, certain athletic moves, other players don’t do,” Musetti said.
Alcaraz was asked afterward whether he'll ever see a opponent come up with a stroke that he'd like to figure out how to add to his repertoire.
“I don’t think that I want to learn it,” came the answer. “I just want ... to hit a better shot.”
Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press