Alcaraz: What A Difference A Year Makes In Madrid

Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal (photo: ATP Tour video)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Three career head-to-head meetings may be premature to constitute a rivalry in tennis. But don’t tell that to anyone. Least of all the fans who filled Manolo Santana Stadium at the Mutua Madrid Open Friday afternoon – and the two combatants who come from two different generations of Spanish tennis.

Now, that 19-year-old Spanish teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz has finally beaten 21-time major champion and five-time Mutua Madrid Open titlist Rafael Nadal for the first time, in their third career meeting and second in Madrid, they have developed a nice on-court rivalry – one that is generational as evidenced by the difference of their ages (Alcaraz just turned 19 on Thursday and Nadal will soon turn 36 at the French Open). This one, perhaps, can be likened to another big Spanish sports rivalry, between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, that takes place on a football pitch.

On this spring afternoon in the Spanish capital city, spirited Madrid fans were certainly into it – and it’s a rivalry that tennis fans around the world can appreciate, too – regardless of their football rooting interests.

A year after he won just a couple of games in a second-round defeat while ranked 120th, Alcaraz overcame a nasty fall on the unforgiving red clay that required medical attention for an ankle injury, then withstood the World No. 4 Nadal’s late attempt at one of his patented magical comebacks to win. The final score line showed the World No. 9 Alcaraz won the quarterfinal match, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, in two hours and 28 minutes. Not bad for his first tournament while ranked in the Top 10. It was also Alcaraz’s 26th ATP Tour victory of the season, second most on tour.

Not lost on Friday’s outcome is this: Alcaraz became the first teenager to beat Nadal on clay. The King of Clay had been 20-0 against teenagers on red dirt. In celebration, Alcaraz wrote “What just happened?” on the camera lens after coming off the court in celebration of his biggest triumph.

“It means a lot to me,” Alcaraz said after the match. “All the hard work that I put in every day pays off today. To beat Rafa, to beat the best player in history on clay, it means a lot to me.”

Alcaraz finished with 37 winners to 31 unforced errors compared to Nadal’s 10 winners and 20 unforced errors. Alcaraz outpointed his opponent 73-71.

Despite physically struggling at times after his fall, Alcaraz maintained belief in himself. “It affected me a lot,” he said. “When I lost the second set, I [just] thought that I was able to come back, to do my best, try everything on court, fight until the last ball. It was the key.”

Now, Alcaraz has reached his third straight Masters 1000 semifinal of the season, following his previous showings at Indian Wells and Miami, a tournament which he won. He’s garnered eight straight wins and his only blemish on clay came in the second round at Monte-Carlo to Sebastian Korda of the United States. He’s also won five straight against Top 10 opponents.

Djokovic remains alive in chase after first title of season

Meanwhile, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic remained alive as he chases after his first title of the season and will be Alcaraz’s next opponent on Saturday. It will be their first head-to-head meeting.

Leading off play on Manolo Santana Stadium Friday afternoon, the top-seeded Serbian and three-time Madrid champion reached his seventh Mutua Madrid Open semifinal after taking down No. 12 seed Hubert Hurkacz, 6-3, 6-4, in 78 minutes. It was career win No. 996 for Djokovic.

The World No. 14 from Poland, who was the only men’s quarterfinals ranked outside the Top 10, proved no match for Djokovic, whose depth, accuracy and control all worked to his favor.

Djokovic hit six aces, struck an economical 16 winners and made only 13 unforced errors. He converted two of six break-point chances against Hurkacz and did not face any break points on his own serve. Djokovic won 81 percent (29 of 36) of his first-serve points. He outpointed Hurkacz, who hit 15 winners and committed 24 unforced errors, 62-48.

“I was serving really well in the second set; I think that kept me alive,” Djokovic said during his on-court interview. “I was pleased with the way I was constructing points. I tried to make him run and miss and overall it was a solid performance.”

Tsitsipas reaches fifth semifinal of the season

World No. 5 and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece reached his fifth ATP Tour singles semifinal of the season with his 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory over World No. 8 and sixth seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Tsitsipas closed out the quarterfinal victory in just under two hours with a forehand winner that left Rublev dead in his tracks.

“He was really applying a lot of force into the strokes, and it wasn’t easy predicting what was going to come next,” said Tsitsipas during his post-match interview after saving a pair of break points in the final game of the quarterfinal match that advanced him into his 10th career Masters 1000 semifinal. “But I’m very glad with the way things ended.

“It’s never easy playing him, and I really had to survive that last game with my best strength and give out my soul, pretty much, to finish it in such a good way.”

The 23-year-old Athens native improved to 27-8 this season with his latest triumph. It was also his 26th career Top-10 victory. Tsitsipas outpointed Rublev 85-78.

Next, Tsitsipas will face defending champion and No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who defeated World No. 10 and eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, 6-3, 7-5, in one hour and 55 minutes in a match that started late Friday evening and wrapped up just after midnight in Madrid.

The World No. 3 Zverev won despite hitting nine double faults – eight of them in the second set. He was aided by four breaks of Auger-Aliassime’s serve and outpointed the Canadian 84-67. It was Zverev’s fifth career win in seven matches against Auger-Aliassime.

“I think this was maybe the best match of the last few months from my side, except maybe the end a little bit,” Zverev said during his post-match interview. “Throughout one-and-a-half sets I played good tennis and I hope I can continue playing this way.”

Zverev will go into Saturday’s semifinal against Tsitsipas trailing 7-3, including 0-3 on clay. During his post-match interview, Zverev gave props to Tsitsipas.

“Rafa is on his way back and Novak is starting to gain momentum, but right now maybe he’s the best clay-court player in the world,” Zverev said. “I think I need to play my best level to have a chance, but I’m looking forward to this match because in Monte Carlo he beat me quite easily. I hope I can change that.” 

Upsets prevail throughout men’s doubles draw

Quarterfinal-round action took place in men’s doubles Friday. With top seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, knocked out in the round of 16, it left the No. 2 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina as the team to beat. However, they were upset by No. 5 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Colombia, 7-6 (5), 6-4, Friday afternoon.

In Saturday’s semifinals, Cabal and Farah will face No. 8 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Michael Venus of New Zealand. The British/Kiwi duo eliminated Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Simone Bolelli of Italy, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7). The other semifinal will pair No. 7 seeds Neal Skupski of Great Britain and Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and John Isner of the United States.

Skupski and Koolhof eliminated Tomislav Brkic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Nikola Cacic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 10-2, while Hurkacz and Isner defeated Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both of Germany, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 10-5.

Krawczyk and Schuurs win twice, advance to women’s doubles final

Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, recent winners of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix title in Stuttgart, won twice on Friday to advance to Saturday’s women’s doubles final.

First, the No. 3 seeds won their quarterfinal match over American pair Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 10-5. Then, after suitable rest, they knocked off No. 1 seeds Storm Sanders of Australia and Zhang Shuai of China, 7-5, 7-6 (5).

In the final, Krawczyk (ranked 21st) and Schuurs (ranked 19th), who have won eight straight matches, will face No. 2 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski (ranked 9th) of Canada and Giuliana Olmos (ranked 18th) of Mexico.

Friday’s Mutua Madrid Open ATP results

Friday’s Mutua Madrid Open WTA results

Saturday’s Mutua Madrid order of play

By the numbers

When Novak Djokovic faces Carlos Alcaraz in Saturday’s semifinal round, it will be the Serbian’s 72nd ATP Masters 1000 semifinal appearance. Only Rafael Nadal (has reached the last four at a Masters 1000 event more. Also, Djokovic is in pursuit of winning his 38th Masters 1000 crown and his fourth title in Madrid. His previous Mutua Madrid Open titles came in 2011, 2016 and 2019.

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