Alcaraz faces baptism by fire in China Open debut as top seed given brutal run

Carlos Alcaraz is getting ready to compete in China for the first time as the ATP returns to its regular Asian swing for the first time in four years. The Spaniard is the top seed at this week’s ATP 500 in Beijing. But the draw is brutal, with eight top 10 players entering the tournament. And Alcaraz could face a baptism by fire if he wants to win his first tournament in Asia.

Alcaraz has already arrived in Beijing for the China Open – his first tournament since crashing out of the US Open in the semi-final. With Novak Djokovic taking a break until late October, the Spaniard will be the top seed at the big events in Asia and could make up some ranking points in the race for year-end No 1.

But it won’t be an easy ride for the 20-year-old in his debut tournament in China as he faces a ruthless path to the title, depending on who makes it deep in the draw. Alcaraz opens against a qualifier but things are set to ramp up from the second round onwards, where he faces either Karen Khachanov or Lorenzo Musetti.

Seventh seed Casper Ruud is a potential quarter-final opponent for Alcaraz in what would be a repeat of the 2022 US Open final, won by the Spaniard. If they make it there, the world No 2 could face one of his young rivals in the semi-final – either third seed Holger Rune or sixth seed Jannik Sinner.

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With Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev heading up the draw as the top two seeds, they are on a collision course to meet in the final. It would be a rematch of the recent US Open semi-final, where the 27-year-old stunned the top seed and defending champion in four sets. Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are the other seeds in the bottom half of the draw and could all be potential opponents in the championship match.

The main draw is brutal, with world No 41 Andy Murray being the lowest-ranked man who hasn’t used a wildcard, special exemption or a protected ranking. And he only made the cut following several withdrawals.

Last time the tournament was played in 2019, Alcaraz was aged 16 and had only just broken into the world’s top 500 as he competed in Challenger and ITF events in Europe. Four years ago, Dominic Thiem won the tournament, beating out Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. The four top seeds all made it to the semi-finals – Thiem, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Khachanov.

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Following the brutal China Open, the tour will then head to Shanghai for the eighth Masters 1000 of the season. Once again, it will be the first time that the event is being staged since 2019. Back then it was Medvedev who lifted the title.

The world No 3 has a track record of doing well in Asia, also winning the ATP 500 in Tokyo back in 2018. It means that Alcaraz will need to learn on the job in a baptism by fire at the China Open this week as he adjusts to the unfamiliar playing conditions.

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