Carlos Alcaraz saves match point to reach third round of French Open

Rising star Carlos Alcaraz saved a match point in the fourth set and erased an early deficit in the fifth to overcome Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to reach the third round of the French Open.

The sixth-seeded Alcaraz grabbed six of the final seven games, and the last half-dozen points, to finish off the second-round victory that lasted more than 4 1/2 hours at Roland Garros.

Alcaraz is just 19 but arrived in Paris with a lot of expectations -- of his own and of others -- based on his breakthrough season that includes a tour-leading four titles. He is the youngest player to break into the top 10 of the ATP rankings since Rafael Nadal in 2005.

En route to the Madrid Open title on red clay earlier this month, Alcaraz became the first man to beat both Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the same tournament on that surface.

But he was quite close to making a quicker-than-expected exit against fellow Spaniard Ramos-Vinolas, a 34-year-old who is ranked 44th.

Alcaraz was a point from losing while Ramos-Vinolas served for the victory at 5-4 in the fourth set. But Ramos-Vinolas missed a forehand there. Eighty minutes later, after trailing 3-0 in the fifth, Alcaraz earned his first match point and converted it with an ace.

"At the end of the third set, I thought I was going to lose," Alcaraz said. "I knew I had to change something or I would lose."

Also Wednesday, Djokovic eased into the third round of his French Open title defense with a straight-sets victory over Alex Molcan.

The top-ranked Djokovic defeated the 24-year-old Slovakian 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (4) at Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Molcan is coached by Djokovic's longtime coach, Marian Vajda, and was able to push Djokovic to a third-set tiebreaker. But Molcan threw his racket down in frustration after hitting the ball into the net -- his 34th unforced error -- to fall behind 6-3 before Djokovic closed it out.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion next faces 32-year-old Slovenian Aljaz Bedene.

Alexander Zverev had to rally from two sets down and save a match point to reach the third round as the German overcame Argentina's Sebastian Baez 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5.

Sebastian Korda and John Isner also advanced.

Most attention, however, was on Alcaraz, just as it has been for much of 2022 as everyone searches for the Next Big Thing to supplant the Big Three in men's tennis.

The guy some call "Carlitos" - and who refers to himself as "Charlie" - is skilled. He is tenacious. He is young; in April, in fact, he became the youngest man to break into the top 10 of the ATP rankings since Nadal did it in 2005.

This is just the sixth Grand Slam tournament for Alcaraz, whose best showing was the U.S. Open quarterfinals last September. It was the 42nd Slam for the 44th-ranked Ramos-Vinolas, who also has one quarterfinal appearance to his name.

Alcaraz improved to 18-1 on clay this season, another reason his name is in the discussion, along with Djokovic's and Nadal's chiefly, about who could leave Roland Garros with the title. That lone loss came at the Monte Carlo Masters last month against Korda - who happens to be Alcaraz's next opponent.

Alcaraz said he will re-watch that match to see how to try to reverse the result. Good as he might already be, his oft-stated desire to keep improving bodes well for what might come down the road.

He called the back-and-forth struggle against Ramos-Vinolas "a lesson."

"I need to learn from these types of matches," Alcaraz said, "these types of situations."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.