Carlos Alcaraz stayed firmly on course to defend his US Open title Monday as he reached the quarter-finals with a straight-sets win over Italy's Matteo Arnaldi.
Alcaraz eased past the 61st-ranked Arnaldi 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 under the roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium and will face sixth seed Jannik Sinner or 2020 runner-up Alexander Zverev for a place in the semi-finals.
The Spaniard beat Sinner in five sets in last year's quarter-finals in New York in a match which set a record for the latest ever finish at the tournament of 2:50am.
"I think everybody wants that match. I think when the draw came out, everybody wants that potential quarter-final, Jannik against me, because of the matches against him last year," said Alcaraz.
"It was one of the best matches that I've played in my career."
Alcaraz and Sinner have split their six meetings, the Italian winning their most recent in Toronto en route to his maiden Masters 1000 title.
"I think we push to the limits each other when we face each other. We increase our level to the top. I love playing against him. It is a great battle," said Alcaraz.
Alcaraz has a 2-3 record against Zverev, who appears to be regaining his best form after a horror ankle injury at last year's French Open.
"Against Sascha (Zverev), the head-to-head as well is really, really close. We've played great matches."
"He's playing really, really well. This year he's finding his top level again."
- Familiar territory -
Alcaraz is the first man to make the last eight or better in his first three US Open appearances since 1980.
The 20-year-old is bidding to become the first man since Roger Federer in 2008 to successfully defend the US Open after winning the title for the first time last year.
"I put out all the pressure that people put on you, on the defending champions. I just delete it and focus on my own game," said Alcaraz.
He broke midway through the opening set and then twice in the second, stylishly charging into a two-set lead with a delicate forehand on the run past an outstretched Arnaldi.
Arnaldi pounced on his first opportunity to break Alcaraz early in the third set only to see his advantage erased the following game.
Alcaraz ripped a sensational cross-court forehand to bring up three match points on Arnaldi's serve at 4-5 and closed out victory inside two hours.
"I think the intensity from the beginning until the last ball, I played a really solid match, less mistakes," said Alcaraz.
"I'm really happy with the performance in general."
Alcaraz had strapping around his left thigh for the first time in the tournament, but the top seed allayed any fears he was struggling with injury.
"It's really tough playing in a Grand Slam. You play tough matches during two weeks. For me it's normal that some pains came to your body, and you have to take care about it," he said.
"It's nothing serious, it's just for prevention. I mean, I felt a little bit that pain on the left leg, but as I said nothing serious. Just taking care about it."