World No 2 Carlos Alcaraz suffered a shock defeat to Roman Safiullin at the Paris Masters as he lost his opening match of a tournament for the first time in 2023.
The two-time Grand Slam champion was beaten 6-3 6-4 by the world No 45 in what was the players’ first meeting on the ATP Tour, with the Russian helped by Alcaraz’s 27 unforced errors.
Safiullin converted four of eight break points – two in each set – and saved two of the four break points Alcaraz managed to engineer as he recorded his biggest victory to date.
The 26-year-old has emerged as a force in 2023, reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon before losing to Jannik Sinner and finishing runner-up to Alexander Zverev at the Chengdu Open.
Safiullin said after beating Alcaraz: “Against Carlos and these top-10, top-20 guys, you have to lift up the level. I managed to do it.
“For Carlos, it was not his best performance, but still I’m happy that I can win. Even if he’s not in the best shape it’s tough to beat him, so I’m really happy that I made it.
“Everything against these guys [is important]. Tactical, physical, the mental part. [It’s key] to stay focussed from the beginning to the end. Who can make it longer is going to be the winner.”
Alcaraz’s hopes of returning to world No 1 dented
Alcaraz was playing for the first time since his last-16 defeat to Grigor Dimitrov in Shanghai 20 days ago, having pulled out of last week’s event in Basel due to foot and back problems.
He looked rusty as he slipped to an opening-match defeat in a Masters 1000 event for the first time since going down to Tommy Paul in Montreal last year.
The 20-year-old broke early in the first set before being pegged back, while he then opened up a 3-1 advantage in the second set only for Safiullin to reel off five of the next six games to clinch victory.
Alcaraz’s loss to Safiullin dents his hopes of ending the season as world No 1 for the second straight year.
Novak Djokovic, who currently holds that ranking, begins his Paris Masters campaign against Tomás Martín Etcheverry on Wednesday with the Serb looking for his seventh title in this event.
Djokovic played in the doubles on Tuesday, teaming up with compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic to beat Ecuador’s Gonzalo Escobar and Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Nedovyesov, as he returned to action for the first time since beating Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final on September 10.
What else happened in Paris on Tuesday?
Ninth seed Taylor Fritz’s hopes of an ATP Finals spot diminished as he withdrew from his match against Daniel Altmaier with an abdominal injury.
The world number 10 will be now miss out on the season-ending tournament in Turin should sixth seed Holger Rune beat Dominic Thiem in his second-round match.
Tenth seed Alexander Zverev rallied from a sloppy start to beat Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics 4-6 7-5 6-4, moving closer to securing his spot at the ATP Finals.
Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, the 11th seed, also kept alive his Finals hopes by earning a three-set win over American Sebastian Korda.
Argentine Francisco Cerundolo saved a match point and bounced back from a two-game deficit in the third set to beat home favourite Gael Monfils, while fifth seed Andrey Rublev defeated Yoshihito Nishioka 6-4 6-3.
Plus, 16th seed Karen Khachanov advanced to the third round, seeing off Laslo Djere 6-4 7-5.