Alcaraz leads pack searching for maiden major title in New York

Tennis - ATP 500 - Hamburg European Open - Am Rothenbaum, Hamburg, Germany - July 24, 2022 Spain's Carlos Alcaraz Garfia acknowledges fans after the men's singles final against Italy's Lorenzo Musetti REUTERS/Cathrin Mueller

NEW YORK, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz leads a group of players eager to collect a maiden major in New York, as a thinned-out U.S. Open men's field could open the door for a first-timer to hoist the trophy.

The then 18-year-old rocketed to tennis stardom a year ago when he beat third-seeded Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round on his way to becoming the youngest man to reach the quarter-final at Flushing Meadows.

He retired in the quarters against young Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime but had already earned his reputation as one of the fiercest competitors among tennis's next generation.

The cool and collected Roland-Garros quarter-finalist has enjoyed a successful 2022, beating Norwegian Casper Ruud in the Miami Open final and Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev to clinch the title in Madrid, both in straight sets.

"Alcaraz is certainly the guy that made the biggest impact the last year, moved the needle as much as anyone, plays with the joy that I think we all love," seven-times major winner and ESPN analyst John McEnroe told reporters.

"(He) has made incredible advances in the last year, but... it's a lot (to ask) for him to win it, but certainly he has a shot."

He still struggles with the challenges that come with competing on tennis's biggest stages, suffering a shock exit in his Montreal opener to American Tommy Paul earlier this month and telling reporters his nerves got the better of him.

"It was the first time that I couldn't handle the pressure," said Alcaraz. "All I can say from this match is I have to train, I have to be ready to have this pressure, to have this kind of moments, and to learn how to handle it."

He quickly bounced back, however, reaching the quarter-final of the U.S. Open tune-up event in Cincinnati and earning the endorsement of Australian Nick Kyrgios, who picked Alcaraz to win it all in New York.

Wimbledon finalist Kyrgios is another contender to hoist a maiden major title after playing the best tennis of his life this year as he works to shatter a reputation for squandering his talent.

He won in Washington and put on a show in Montreal, producing a staggering display to down compatriot Alex de Minaur in straight sets before losing in the quarter-final to Poland's Hubert Hurkacz.

"If Kyrgios was able to, you know, sort of keep his head together the last couple of months... if he could continue to do that, he'd actually be one of the two, three or four guys that you would say also has a chance," said McEnroe.

With Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev out, the path is clearer for Tsitsipas as well after he pushed past world number one Daniil Medvedev to reach the Cincinnati final. read more

"It's just these two weeks, you know, you've got to play top line... you've got to put out your A-game for seven matches in a row. And who's going to be able to that - that's the challenge," 18-times major winner and ESPN analyst Chris Evert told reporters.

Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York Editing by Toby Davis

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