What A Difference A Year Has Made For Alcaraz In Madrid

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: ATP Tour video)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 4, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

What a difference a year has made for Carlos Alcaraz. Twelve months ago, just 17, Alcaraz celebrated his 18th birthday at the Mutua Madrid Open when he lost to Rafael Nadal in the second round in his tournament debut. He was ranked No. 120 and had received a wild card into the main draw. Fast forward a year, Alcaraz turns 19 on Thursday and the seventh seed will play the winner of Wednesday’s match between No. 9 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain and John Isner of the United States on his birthday.

Oh, by the way, Alcaraz is now ranked World No. 9 – that’s 111 spots better than last year. He’s also lifted three trophies this year on the ATP Tour, including his first Masters 1000 crown at the Miami Open on a hard court in March to go along with two titles won on clay at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (an ATP 500 in April) and in Rio de Janeiro (an ATP 250 in February).

“I think I’m more mature now,” Alcaraz said in a post-match on-court interview that followed a 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 27 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, his first since being ranked in the Top 10. “One year is not too much time to get mature but I think I’m a different player, different person now. I manage the nerves better than before and I think now I’m ready to play these kinds of matches in these kinds of stadiums in front of a lot of people. I’m feeling comfortable in these types [of matches].”

Alcaraz was the star attraction inside Manolo Santana Stadium Tuesday evening and the arena was filled with plenty of Spanish fans who gave him rock-star treatment, cheering him from the start to the finish of his 83-minute second-round match against Basilashvili. The victory improved his 2022 win-loss record to an impressive 24-3.

“I think I played really well. This is a tough opponent,” said Alcaraz, who is in pursuit of his second Masters 1000 title this season. “He plays really hard. I think that the first match in every tournament is tough, but I was focused from the beginning to the end and I’m really happy to get into the next round.”

Although Alcaraz trailed much of the second set, twice down by a break, he won the last four games of the match and garnered match point thanks to a lucky net cord shot that Basilashvili was unable to react to in time. The young Spaniard finished with 17 winners to 23 unforced errors, converted six of nine break chances and allowed Basilashvili to hit just eight winners. The Georgian tallied 34 unforced errors and Alcaraz outscored Basilashvili 66-48.

Murray’s comeback win sets up blockbuster with Djokovic

It was well past midnight in Madrid as late Tuesday night turned into early Wednesday morning, but Andy Murray didn’t seem to mind. The former World No. 1 from Great Britain had just defeated No. 14 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, to achieve back-to-back wins for the first time since January in Sydney.

Now, in consecutive performances in Madrid, the 46-time ATP Tour titlist has strung together impressive wins at La Caja Mágica against former Top 10 players Dominic Thiem and Shapovalov. The pair of victories advanced the wild card Murray to a third-round meeting with World No. 1 and Madrid top seed Novak Djokovic on Thursday. The Serbian did his part earlier Tuesday by beating Frenchman Gaël Monfils for the 18th consecutive time. It will be their first meeting since they played in the Doha final in 2017.

Despite the late hour, the 78th-ranked Murray was in a talkative mood during his on-court interview – speaking both about the upcoming match against Djokovic as well the match he had just won against Shapovalov – and what he had to say spoke great volumes.

“In theory, I should have no chance in the match [against Djokovic],” the 34-year-old Murray admitted. “He’s obviously No. 1 in the world and I’m playing with a metal hip. So, I shouldn’t have a chance in the match. It’s a great opportunity for me to see where my game’s at and to play against him again.

“We’ve had so many great battles over the years in some of the biggest tournaments in the world. We played in the final, I think, of all four Grand Slams. We played here in the final, and I haven’t had that opportunity to play against him for a long time. Didn’t know if I ever would get that chance, so I’ll enjoy it. I’ll have a fantastic attitude in the match, give it my best and see where I’m at.”

The Murray-Djokovic showdown on Thursday, with a quarterfinal berth up for grabs, will be their 37th head-to-head meeting. Djokovic leads the rivalry with 25 wins to 11 for Murray. The last seven times they’ve met have been in tournament finals.

While Murray has won eight first-round matches this season, getting past the second round has been anything but routine. He allowed Shapovalov back into the match in the second set before he found his rhythm and way in the final set to pull out the two-hour and nine-minute victory on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium. He won 78 percent (35 of 45) of his first-serve points, hit 16 winners, converted four of 11 break points and outpointed the Canadian 83-69.

“I trained very hard the past four or five weeks and got my game in good shape,” Murray said. “My movement has been so much better than where it was at the beginning of the year and it makes a huge difference to my whole game. It allows me to make different decisions on the court. My movement won me that match tonight. I defended so many points. He has so much power and I managed to defend lots of points and that won the match for me. So, I was really happy with that.”

Around the Mutua Madrid Open

Five-time Madrid champion Rafael Nadal, two-time titlist Alexander Zverev and 2019 finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas are all in action Wednesday.

The No. 3 seed Nadal will play Miomir Kecmanovic in the third match on Manolo Santana Stadium not before 4 p.m. (Madrid time), following the No. 2 seed Zverev’s match against Marin Cilic. Meanwhile, No. 4 seed Tsitsipas will face wild card Lucas Pouille in the second match of the evening session not before 9 p.m., also on Manolo Santana Stadium.

Wednesday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play