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Defending Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz comes back to beat Frances Tiafoe in the third round

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LONDON (AP) — Carlos Alcaraz found himself pushed to a Grand Slam fifth set again, this time at Wimbledon, this time against good pal Frances Tiafoe. And as he usually does under such circumstances, no matter how much trouble he might have been in, Alcaraz surged to the finish.

Avoiding a surprising exit, the defending champion got past Tiafoe 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 on Friday to reach Wimbledon’s fourth round in an entertaining match filled with moments of brilliance and a series of momentum swings across its 3 hours, 50 minutes.

“I push the opponent just to be at 100%, physically and mentally, and play at 100%,” Alcaraz said, describing the mindset that has helped him go 12-1 in five-setters. “Sometimes for the other player, it’s difficult to (stay) at this kind of intensity.”

In front of a Centre Court crowd that included Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, and under a closed retractable roof that amplified the thuds of rackets-on-balls, grunts and cheers, the third-seeded Alcaraz was outplayed for stretches by No. 29 Tiafoe.

But Alcaraz was better at the business end, the way he was when overturning 2-1 deficits in sets before winning in five in the semifinals and final en route to the French Open title last month.

“I let him dictate a little too much,” Tiafoe said. “Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of all it was.”

He was unable to pull out what would have been a breakthrough victory for someone who arrived at Wimbledon with a sprained ligament in his right knee and a losing record this season.

Sure came close, though.

The 26-year-old American was two points away from getting the chance to serve for the win, getting to love-30 on Alcaraz’s serve at 4-all in the fourth set.

“Huge,” Tiafoe called it.

But Alcaraz claimed the next four points, capped by an ace at 130 mph (210 kph). He then dominated the ensuing tiebreaker, grabbing a 5-0 lead.

In the final set, Tiafoe held in the opening game, but that was pretty much that. At 1-all, Alcaraz got the last break he needed by smacking a passing shot Tiafoe let fly by; the ball at the baseline, spraying chalk.

Women reaching the fourth round on a rainy day were 2023 U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff, 2021 U.S. Open winner Emma Raducanu, French Open runner-up Jasmine Paolini, No. 19 Emma Navarro — the American who eliminated Naomi Osaka earlier in the week — 2017 U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys, Donna Vekic and Lulu Sun. Four men’s matches didn’t get done because of the showers, but No. 1 Jannik Sinner, No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 12 Tommy Paul did advance.

Gauff, who is seeded No. 2, will face Navarro in an all-American matchup for a berth in the quarterfinals, where neither has been at Wimbledon.

“At this point,” Gauff said, “it feels as if losing in the fourth or the quarterfinals feels the same, in a way, just because I do have such big aspirations.”

Most of the attention Friday was on Alcaraz and Tiafoe, two known for providing a show. Alcaraz delivered on-the-run, back-to-the-net ’tweeners and pointed to his ear to ask spectators for more noise; Tiafoe interacted with the fans, too, waving to them to get louder.

These two good-naturedly traded some mild trash talk when they found out they’d be facing each other, and they hugged and chatted at the net when it was over.

Tiafoe stopped playing during a match last month at the Queen’s Club event after hurting his knee, and was just 13-14 in 2024 before Wimbledon, with some of those losses coming against players he referred to as “clowns,” without naming names.

“It was huge for me to be in that environment again and play a match of such high quality. Me coming after one of the best players in the world and putting my game on display at the highest level, (at) a court I’ve never played on. So that definitely sparked a huge light under me,” Tiafoe said. “I mean, I had so much fun playing out there. I felt so comfortable. I really thought the match was there for me to take.”

After Tiafoe, who wore a black sleeve on his right knee, slipped and went down to the ground a couple of times Friday, Alcaraz walked around the net to the other side of the court to check on him or offer a hand to help him get to his feet.

There were fewer of the sorts of lengthy, extended exchanges they engaged in at Flushing Meadows a little less than two years ago — when Alcaraz defeated Tiafoe in a five-setter in the U.S. Open semifinals — mostly owing to the speedier grass that tends to end points quickly. Still, there was shared excellence aplenty, including a 22-stroke point that Alcaraz won to help lead 4-2 in the first set.

Tiafoe broke right back and soon owned that set. Alcaraz righted himself in the second. Then it was Tiafoe’s turn to play better in the third. And, ultimately, it was Alcaraz who emerged.

“A lot of up and downs,” Alcaraz said.

Now he’ll continue to pursue a second consecutive title at the All England Club and fourth Grand Slam trophy overall, including the recent triumph in Paris that made the 21-year-old Spaniard the youngest man to win a major on all three surfaces.

“Especially if I want to win one of these things, I’ve got to beat him,” Tiafoe said. “This one hurts a little more than the (U.S.) Open. I feel like the Open, I was kind of hanging on for dear life. I thought this one was more one I thought was kind of on my racket at times.”

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer

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