Alcaraz drops first set, rallies into Rio quarters


RIO DE JANEIRO — Defending champion Carlos Alcaraz was far from his best against veteran Fabio Fognini but managed to advance to the Rio Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

Alcaraz, the tournament’s top seed, overcame Fognini 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 in 2 hours, 47 minutes. Alcaraz’s next opponent will be Dusan Lajovic, who beat his Serbian compatriot Laslo Djere 6-2, 6-4.

Alcaraz, 19, is playing his second tournament since he was sidelined for four months due to a right leg injury. He won the Argentina Open title last Sunday having dropped only one set in the tournament.

In Rio, though, Alcaraz has been far less dominant against both rivals he has faced — No. 556 Mateus Alves, whom Alcaraz beat 6-4, 6-4, and No. 86 Fognini.

“It was a match of ups and downs,” Alcaraz said of his win over Fognini. “In this kind of match against players like him you cannot miss the opportunities.”

Alcaraz took a 3-0 lead over Fognini in the first set, but a run of unforced errors allowed the Italian to fight back and win in the tiebreaker.

In the third set, Alcaraz once again had a 3-0 advantage but saw the Italian recover and stage a comeback, but the teenager’s energy and strong forehands prevailed.

“I struggled with my serve a little bit. I was up with a lot of control of the match. But a lot of breaks of serve in a row,” Alcaraz said. “I was going to have my chances to improve the game on my serve and I think I did.”

Earlier, Bernabe Zapata Miralles eliminated fourth-seeded Francisco Cerundolo 6-1, 4-6, 6-1. His quarterfinal will be against fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who beat Daniel Elahi Galan 6-2, 6-4.

Sebastian Baez will take on Nicolas Jarry in the next round. Baez beat Juan Pablo Varillas 7-5, 7-6 (6), while Jarry defeated Pedro Martinez 6-2, 6-2.

The fourth quarterfinal will be between Cameron Norrie and Hugo Dellien. The second-seeded Norrie could meet Alcaraz in the final as he did at last Sunday’s Argentina Open, where Alcaraz won in straight sets.

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