Despite losses, Wimbledon a success for Americans Navarro, Paul

WIMBLEDON, England — For one set and two games on Tuesday afternoon, it looked as if Tommy Paul was on his way to becoming the first American man to reach the Wimbledon semifinals since 2018. After a tightly contested opening set on No. 1 Court against defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, Paul brought the crowd to its feet with his heroics. He had a 7-5 edge after 72 minutes.

Paul earned an early break in the second set, creating a buzz in the stands and leaving many to wonder if an upset was in the works.

But Alcaraz, as he so often does, raised his level and fought back. First he took the set, then Paul’s confidence and then the match. Bolstered by a strong return game and 36 winners, Alcaraz emerged victorious 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. He advanced to the semifinals while Paul was sent home.

Meanwhile, just a few hundred feet away, fellow American Emma Navarro was playing on Centre Court for a spot in her first major semifinals after a dominant run to the quarterfinals. She had convincingly defeated Coco Gauff in straight sets in the fourth round and had emerged as the unlikely favorite in the equally unexpected bottom half of the draw.

But Navarro’s hopes were dashed quickly against the surging Jasmine Paolini. The No. 7 seed, who reached the French Open final last month, took control early and never relinquished it. She needed just 58 minutes for the 6-2, 6-1 victory. Paolini became the first Italian woman in the Open era to advance to the semifinals at the All England Club, while Navarro became the second American of the day with a disappointing result.

But while their runs ended earlier than either would have liked, the tournament and the grass-court season can only be viewed as a success for both Paul and Navarro.

Paul, 27, earned the first grass-court title of his career at Queen’s Club last month and following the title briefly became the top-ranked American man. It was his best finish at Wimbledon in three appearances and marked his second major quarterfinal. Even in defeat, Paul said there was a lot he could take away from the past several weeks.

“I feel like every match I kind of learned something new, every match I played a little bit better,” Paul said on Tuesday. “I was attacking pretty well throughout the whole stretch. I mean, I guess what I’m most proud of is probably two weeks ago, in Queen’s, getting [the] title. I feel like any time you can go home with a title, that is nice.

“Then this week, I mean, I’m happy getting through four matches and playing Carlos here. But obviously I want to win that match and have another big match.”

For the 23-year-old Navarro, it was the latest milestone result in a season full of them. After reaching her first fourth round at a major at the French Open last month, she made the semifinals at Bad Homburg and then advanced to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Navarro, a former NCAA champion who was ranked No. 57 this time last year, is expected to rise to a new career-high ranking of No. 14 next week.

Navarro believes it’s just the beginning.

“I played the best tennis I’ve ever played in my life this tournament,” Navarro said after the loss. “It’s really exciting to know I have that level inside of me. I know I’ll keep improving on it. I know this isn’t the last time I’m going to be in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. I know I’ll be back.”

And both players still have a lot to look forward to this summer. In addition to the North American hard-court season, both were tapped to play in the Olympic Games for Team USA later this month in Paris. Paul, who will be making his second Olympic appearance, is expected to play in singles and doubles (alongside longtime friend Taylor Fritz) and Navarro will compete in singles.

Just four women and four men are selected to play singles at the Olympics based on ranking, and Navarro previously said making the team was “something that I really wanted to make happen” all season.

And before the Olympics begin, the Americans still have hope at Wimbledon. Fritz, who has had a headline-making run at the All England Club, came back to defeat Alexander Zverev in five sets in a much-discussed fourth-round clash on Monday. He will play Lorenzo Musetti on Wednesday with a chance to reach his first major semifinals.

Fritz, who is on an eight-match win streak on grass after winning the lead-in title at Eastbourne, came close to reaching the final four at Wimbledon in 2022 but was defeated by Rafael Nadal in a fifth-set tiebreak. Fritz said he is feeling much different during this run. In addition to the confidence gained by winning the Eastbourne title, he said he’s had to work much harder to reach the last eight this time and is no longer just happy to have reached the quarterfinals.

And no one will be cheering Fritz on more than Paul.

“He’s playing Musetti, I just played him two weeks ago [in the Queen’s Club final],” Paul said. “We’ll probably talk about that a bit. I obviously hope he wins the whole tournament.

“He’s playing awesome. I watched the whole match yesterday with Zverev. I’m excited to see his next match.”

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