By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Wimbledon’s reigning champion Carlos Alcaraz was pushed to the limit for the second match in succession but once again stood firm to beat Ugo Humbert and reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.

Outplayed at times by his French opponent, third seed Alcaraz dug deep to triumph 6-3 6-4 1-6 7-5 to move through to the last eight at a Grand Slam for the ninth time.

Just as against American Frances Tiafoe in the previous round, Alcaraz struggled to contain an inspired opponent throwing the kitchen sink at him but this time narrowly avoided being dragged into another five-setter.

The players were protected from the torrential rain that drummed on the closed Centre Court roof early on but there was no hiding place for Humbert as Alcaraz stormed through the opening set after grabbing an early service break.

Stylish left-hander Humbert began to make inroads with his early-struck returns in the second set but he went unrewarded as Alcaraz pounced to win a remarkable rally on set point in which he was grounded after doing the splits.

The warning signs had been there for Alcaraz though and he was stunned in the third set as an increasingly confident Humbert broke his serve three times in succession.

After a flurry of service breaks at the start of the fourth set, Humbert continued to look the more dangerous and had three successive break points when Alcaraz served at 3-4 but the three-time Grand Slam champion wriggled out of danger.

Alcaraz then found some magic just when he needed it most, curling a staggering forehand winner down the line when under the hammer in his next service game and then breaking serve in the following game with another forehand dipper.

Alcaraz brought up match point with a disguised forehand drop shot, one of his favourite tricks, and sealed victory with a wide swinging serve that Humbert could not handle.

Once again though he knew he had been in a real battle and he will hope to have things a little more under control against either compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut or American Tommy Paul.

Defending a Wimbledon title is not supposed to be a breeze and Alcaraz has looked vulnerable at times in the first week.

At one stage deep in the match on Sunday he had lost five out of six service games as Humbert began to read the delivery like a book and send the ball back to within millimetres of the lines loaded with hefty interest.

When Humbert got to 0-40 in the eighth game of the fourth set the alarm bells were really starting to ring for Alcaraz who lost his cool and began to rant towards coach Juan Carlos Ferrero in his players’ box.

The mark of a champion though is being able to stay cool and some heavy serving got him out of trouble.

Humbert, bidding for his first Grand Slam quarter-final appearance, barely put a foot wrong but a costly smash error at 5-5 proved his undoing and Alcaraz needed no second invitation to finish the job.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Alison Williams and Christian Radnedge)

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