For the first time this season, things were looking truly bleak for Carlos Alcaraz. Qualifier Nicolas Jarry was giving the Spaniard all he could handle in Saturday's Rio Open presented by Claro semi-finals. The Chilean was twice within two games of victory at 4-4 and 5-5 in the second set, with Alcaraz receiving treatment on his upper left leg after holding on both of those occasions.
But just when he seemed at his most vulnerable, not having seen a break point since he stopped Jarry from serving out the opening set at 5-3, the 19-year-old reeled off eight straight games in devastating fashion for a 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-0 victory.
"I'm so proud of myself," Alcaraz said after winning his eighth match in 11 days. "To be in a final again in my second tournament is a really special moment for me... I couldn't ask for a better start of 2023."
Both men entered the matchup on winning streaks, and their play on Court Guga Kuerten showed why. By improving to 8-0 on the season, Alcaraz ended the five-match Rio run of Jarry, who did not drop a set across two qualifying and three main-draw victories.
Jarry took the match to Alcaraz early and took a quick 3-0 lead, making it three staight sets in which the Spaniard conceded the opening break. While Alcaraz was able to erase those deficits in the quarters against Dusan Lajovic, Jarry's power game got him over the line this time despite a late wobble as he attempted to serve out the set.
The Chilean hit 10 forehand winners to Alcaraz's five in the opener, and won 89 per cent (16/18) of his first-serve points.
"It was a really tough first set, coming back from a break down," Alcaraz said. "And then playing a tie-break that I didn't really play well, it's tough to come back.
"Then I came back from 0/40 in the first game [of the second set]. It was really tough. But [I kept] a positive attitude to stay there and [took] my chances... It's all I can say. But honestly, I don't know how I did it."
Jarry continued to mix power with well-timed drop shots in set two—taking a page straight from the Alcaraz playbook—but he could not convert from 0/40 in the opening game as Alcaraz erased four break points. The next break point for either man doubled as a set point, which Alcaraz snatched in style.
The final blow, effectively, came on a shot-of-the-season contender, with the Spaniard disappearing from the TV broadcast deep in his forehand corner and landing an impossible passing shot on break point for 2-0. It was all academic after that, with Alcaraz cruising to victory in two hours, 42 minutes.
For the second straight week on South American clay, Alcaraz and Cameron Norrie will meet in an ATP Tour final as the top two seeds. Alcaraz earned a 6-3, 7-5 win against the Briton last week in Buenos Aires to improve to 4-1 in their ATP Head2Head series.
Norrie advanced to the final with a three-set win of his own, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(3) against Bernabe Zapata Miralles.
Asked if his leg issue was a concern for Sunday, Alcaraz played down any fresh injury fears.
"I don't worry about that. It's a tennis player's life," he said. "Playing with some pain is normal for a tennis player. Even more if we are playing win by win, no break for almost 14 days in a row. It's normal. I'm going to take care of that and go into the final 100 per cent."
Jarry, who was playing in his first ATP Tour semi-final since his 2019 Bastad title run, soared 53 places up the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings to No. 86 this week. Returning to the Top 100 for the first time since the Pepperstone ATP Rankings froze due to COVID-19 in March 2020, the 27-year-old is set to pass countryman Cristian Garin as the Chilean No. 1 on Monday—just in time for next week’s ATP 250 in Santiago, where his aunt, Catalina Fillol, is tournament director.