LONDON: Nothing could throw Jannik Sinner off course on Sunday as he zoned in on securing a blockbuster quarter-final date with six-times champion Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.
Even when Carlos Alcaraz snatched away two match points during a spellbinding third-set tiebreak, the Italian did not flinch.
When three more match points disappeared within a blink of an eye with Sinner 5-2 up in the fourth set, the Italian kept on believing.
And it was that belief, along with a sledgehammer of a forehand, that carried him into the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time with a 6-1 6-4 6-7(8) 6-3 victory over the Spanish fifth seed.
On a day when Wimbledon's most famous stage celebrated its centenary, the two youngest players left in the men's draw gave a glimpse of the future with some breathtaking shot-making that earned them a standing ovation from 15,000 hollering fans.
"It's tough when you have match point and you still have to play -- I tried my best," said Sinner, who until this week had never won a match on grass.
"I'm very happy how I reacted in the beginning of the fourth because I was struggling but I'm very happy to be in the next round and hopefully I can play some good tennis there."
With Wimbledon's all-time greats Rod Laver and Billie Jean King watching on from the Royal Box, the first two sets gave absolutely no indication of the nail-biting drama that would unfold on Centre Court.
The highly-rated Alcaraz, who has won a Tour-leading four titles this year, was sucked into a Sinner whirlwind as he lost seven games in a row from 1-1 in the first set.
Just when it seemed that Sinner would unceremoniously freeze out the friend with whom he had shared an ice bath two days earlier, Alcaraz's fearsome forehand suddenly started to cause some damage.
At 6-6 in the third set, it was game on in the battle of the belting forehands.
Sinner denied Alcaraz three chances to close out the set, with the Italian 10th seed saving the third of those set points with an outrageous crosscourt missile that was clocked at more than 100mph.
Not to be outdone, the Spaniard then denied Sinner two match points before earning a standing ovation when he flicked over an audacious half volley to end what had been a brutal baseline exchange.
That brought up his fourth set point, and this time Alcaraz made no mistake as he wore down his opponent during a 13-shot rally that ended with Sinner clubbing a backhand wide.
At the start of the fourth set, Sinner's survival instincts kicked in as Alcaraz went on the attack to earn five break points.
Unfortunately for the Spaniard, he not only failed to convert any of those chances but then tamely surrendered his own serve in the fourth game with a double fault.
But Alcaraz is not tipped as a Grand Slam champion-in-waiting for nothing and he showed his pedigree by saving another three match points from 15-40 down while trailing 5-2.
In the next game, he even had a chance to get the set back on serve when he nosed ahead 30-40 on Sinner's serve. A cruel net cord that rolled back denied Alcaraz the break and two points later Sinner was shaking his clenched fists in triumph.