Jannik Sinner progressed into the Wimbledon quarter-finals after he proved too hot to handle for Carlos Alcaraz in a meeting between two of the biggest prospects in the sport.
A breathless start by the Italian saw him grab the initiative and only briefly let it slip against the 19-year-old, who eventually hit his straps but could never find the level that saw him make the last eight at the US Open and Roland Garros in the past year.
Sinner, 20, had never won at the All England Club before this summer but took his sixth match point to claim a 6-1 6-4 6-7 (8) 6-3 success in three hours and 35 minutes to set up a potential dual with defending champion Novak Djokovic.
This was only their third battle at ATP level and the Spaniard held the upper-hand at the start of what could be a rivalry destined to dominate the next decade of tennis.
A stunning forehand winner from Alcaraz started proceedings and appeared to show his intent but his fellow Next Gen champion soon started to dictate.
Sinner had to fight hard to hold his first two service games and then seized the moment on his Centre Court debut when his impressive return could only be netted by Alcaraz to hand the Italian an early break.
Fifth seed Alcaraz was also playing on Wimbledon’s biggest stage for the first time and looked out-of-sorts with a slip and double-fault allowing his Italian rival to take the opener, which was sealed with the first ace of the clash.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 3, 2022
An unexpected period of 40 minutes would pass before the teenager ended Sinner’s run of seven games in a row with a 129mph rocket of his own.
Even though Alcaraz was gradually moving through the gears, world number 13 Sinner was still calling the shots and despite not making the most of more break points, he moved two sets ahead following another unforced error by his opponent.
With cheers audible from Court Two inside the 15,000-seater venue, after David Goffin and Frances Tiafoe’s four-and-a-half-hour epic finally finished, the chances of this going the distance looked to be remote when Sinner created three break points at the beginning of the third.
But Alcaraz produced a brilliant blitz of five points, started by a sensational drop shot and ended with a wonderfully executed serve-and-volley, which saw the world number seven clinch a big hold.
The pair went blow to blow with a couple of bullet forehand and backhand winners from Sinner followed by a phenomenal seventh game of the third set.
One of several exchanges at the net saw Sinner dive and slide on to the grass but fail to make his shot, which Alcaraz reacted to by giving his self-confessed friend a fist bump.
After two lengthy games went to deuce, it was no surprise a tie-breaker was required and the next 15 minutes saw a rollercoaster ride for everyone.
Three set points came and went for Alcaraz, largely thanks to two rockets off the forehand of Sinner, who then squandered two match points.
— Jannik Sinner (@janniksin) July 3, 2022
A masterful drop shot from the Spanish star on the run created a fourth set point and this was gratefully taken to spark an eruption of noise from those in attendance.
Nobody was ready for this to end and Sinner’s disappointment would have been huge as his rival accepted the adulation on offer at the All England Club, but he showed impressive powers of resolve to save two break points at the start of the fourth.
The 20-year-old looked jaded when Alcaraz scampered across the baseline to force another deuce with a winner down the line.
Sinner would hold though just as the match clock hit three hours and suddenly the physicality of the last-16 tie hit both.
A badly-timed double-fault by Alcaraz helped give away a break and the 13th best player in the world did the same in the following game.
But Sinner dug deep from 0-40 down and an overhead smash was backed up by another classy backhand winner to ensure a huge hold.
He did let three more match points go to waste but one final huge forehand could not be returned as the youngster from Italy made the last eight of a grand slam for a third time.