Alcaraz Beats Djokovic With Power And Finesse To Reach Madrid Final

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: ATP Tour video)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 7, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s been just two days since Carlos Alcaraz turned 19 and only a day after the Spanish teen sensation defeated his idol, Rafael Nadal. On Saturday at the Masters 1000 Mutua Madrid Open, Alcaraz came looking to write his name in the tennis record books when he opposed World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the day’s first semifinal.

Alcaraz attempted to become the youngest of 12 players to ever defeat Nadal and Djokovic at the same event – and the first to do it on clay. He would be the fifth player overall to defeat Nadal and Djokovic on consecutive days. Could Alcaraz beat a 20-time major champion after beating a 21-time Grand Slam champ?

Yes, but it would take three sets, plus three hours and 35 minutes – and three match points – for Alcaraz to achieve the dream of slaying two of the biggest names in tennis. But he did it to advance to Sunday’s title match.

The World No. 9 Alcaraz defeated the top-seeded Djokovic, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5). Victory came after Alcaraz ripped a third-shot forehand winner. The celebration for him and for Spanish fans that filled Manolo Santana Stadium was loud and joyous. Djokovic congratulated Alcaraz at the net with a warm embrace at the conclusion of the semifinal match.

On Friday, Alcaraz became the first teenager to beat Nadal on clay and the third-youngest player to beat Nadal on any surface, behind only Borna Coric, who accomplished the feat at age 17 back in 2014 at Basel, and Denis Shapovalov, who was 18 in 2017 at Montreal. It earned him a semifinal berth against Djokovic.

This was the first meeting between Alcaraz and Djokovic. Alcaraz came in 25-3 and has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the Top 10 after winning titles in Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona. He will climb to No. 6 in the next ATP Rankings on Monday.

Meanwhile, Djokovic dropped to 7-4 with the loss to Alcaraz after missing much of the season due to being expelled from Australia and not allowed entry into the United States to play Indian Wells and Miami, all because of his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

While Alcaraz won back-to-back three-setters to reach the semifinal, extending his winning streak to eight matches, Djokovic had not dropped a set in Madrid. It proposed to be a great way to start Semifinal Saturday and the match didn’t disappoint fans, who filled La Caja Mágica on a sunny afternoon.

Alcaraz broke Djokovic in the opening game of the match after the Serbian double faulted and was beaten by a backhand cross-court passing shot that finished a six-shot rally. The young Spaniard immediately consolidated the break for an early 2-0 lead. Then, Alcaraz worked his way out of trouble and saved a break point to maintain a 4-2 advantage.

However, Djokovic got back on level terms two games later with a successful service break after Alcaraz netted a fifth-shot backhand. A solid love hold gave Djokovic three consecutive games and his first lead of the match at 5-4, but Alcaraz got back on track with a hold for 5-all. Then, after another love hold by Djokovic for 6-5, Alcaraz gained confidence and took the first set to a tie-break to decide it.

Djokovic dominated the tie-break, jumping out to a 5-1 lead before Alcaraz fought his way back. Then, at 6-5, Djokovic won the set on his fourth set-point opportunity after Alcaraz netted a backhand return that killed a 14-shot rally after an hour and two minutes.

In the second set, following a series of short holds in which neither player faced any break points, Alcaraz held for a 3-2 lead. However, he pressured Djokovic in the ensuing game and managed a break point but the Serbian fought it off to hold for 3-all. Alcaraz pushed ahead in the next game and won it with a nifty drop shot. Then, at 4-all, Alcaraz saved a break point with a solid winner en route to holding serve for 5-4. Djokovic rallied with a hold at 30 for 5-all as the shadows began to move across the court sideways.

Then, Alcaraz saved a break point in his next service game with a drop shot return that Djokovic returned long and held for 6-5 after Djokovic sailed long a backhand second-shot return. However, the best was yet to come as Alcaraz finally broke Djokovic on his second on his second try in the 12th game and won the second set 7-5 with power and finesse. He converted set point with a nifty forehand passing shot winner from the net hit down the line that wrapped up a 12-shot tug of war after 65 minutes. It was on to a third set to decide the outcome.

On serve at 2-1 in favor of Alcaraz in the final set, Djokovic saved a break point with his fourth ace, then fought off another break point after the Spanish teen sailed a backhand long. On Alcaraz’s third break-point opportunity of the game, a Djokovic overhead smash finished off an 11-shot attack as the game surpassed eight minutes in duration. Djokovic finally held for 2-all to wrap up a 14-point marathon game as the semifinal exceeded two-and-a-half hours. Then, after Alcaraz held with a drop-shot winner on game point, Djokovic escaped with a hold after fighting back two break points and it was 3-all. Next, Alcaraz saved a break point and hit a forehand winner to finish off a 14-point hold for 4-3, and held again for 5-4 with a chance to break Djokovic to close out the victory.

Alcaraz had the opportunity to win as he quickly gained a match point against Djokovic after hitting a forehand winner to cap a 27-shot rally, but the top seed determinedly fought it off with his sixth ace. Then, he went on to hold at the conclusion of a four-deuce 14-point game for 5-all. The seventh seed responded quickly with a love hold to keep the pressure on Djokovic, ahead 6-5. He responded with a pair of aces, his seventh and eighth, to force a third-set tie-break to decide who would advance to the final.

In the tie-break, Alcaraz gained a couple of mini breaks at 2-0 and 4-2 that were both erased by Djokovic. However, Alcaraz broke to go ahead 6-4 and closed it out a point later on his third match-point opportunity with a third-shot forehand winner, his 35th forehand winner of the semifinal and 51st overall.

Alcaraz became the youngest to reach the Madrid final and Saturday’s triumph represented his sixth straight win against a Top-10 opponent.

“I don’t know what they difference [between us] was,” Alcaraz said during an off-court TV interview after the win. “It was so close. He had the chances to break my serve at the end of the second set. In the first set as well. It was so close in the tie-break. Honestly, I don’t know what made the difference.”

Alcaraz added: “This gives me a lot of confidence to play the final tomorrow. I know that I played a really good game, and for the rest of the season I think I am able to play against the best players in the world and beat them as well. So, it gives me a lot of confidence.”

Zverev bests Tsitsipas in rivalry renewal

In Saturday’s other semifinal, pairing the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds, World No. 2 Alexander Zverev of Germany and World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, it was Zverev who won 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

Until Saturday, Tsitsipas had won all three meetings on clay, including a 6-4, 6-2 victory on April 16 in the semifinals of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and was 7-3 overall against the German.

However, Zverev came in riding an eight-match Mutua Madrid Open winning streak since losing to Tsitsipas, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, in the 2019 quarterfinals. Now, it’s nine and he’s into the final against Carlos Alcarez.

“Im just extremely happy to be in the final here,” Zverev said. “I know it’s going to be an extremely tough match tomorrow but I hope I can manage to play my best and give myself a chance.”

Koolhof and Skupski reach sixth doubles final of season

Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain reached their sixth ATP doubles final of the season after defeating Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and John Isner of the United States, 7-6 (7), 7-5, in an  hour and 43 minutes.

The No. 7 seeds Koolhof and Skupski outpointed Hurkacz and Isner 78-64 to advance to Sunday’s final against No. 5 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia. Cabal and Farah defeated No. 8 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Michael Venus of New Zealand, 7-6 (3), 6-3, in one hour and 27 minutes.

Plenty of high-profile attendees for Friday’s Alcaraz-Nadal match

Friday’s Carlos Alcaraz-Rafael Nadal quarterfinal match drew a Spanish who’s who to La Caja Mágica. Among the high-profile attendees: The King of Spain, Felipe VI; legendary Real Madrid forward Raul Gonzalez; and former Spanish international football star David Villa.

By the numbers

Rafael Nadal’s quarterfinal loss to Carlos Alcaraz on Friday was his first to a Spaniard since 2016, when he fell to Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open. He has a 138-22 win-loss record against his countrymen.

“Quotable …”

“The reading of the tournament is I have played three matches and that I came here with hardly any preparation, with no preparation. This is the reality. I said that before coming here it was going to be a tough week, even though I have lost to one of the fittest players of the world with no doubts, I even had my opportunities.

“I have played two-and-a-half hours [today] and three matches. This is a positive outcome. From here onwards, just looking forward with optimism and [I’m] happy and excited. We will see what happens. You have to believe.”

Rafael Nadal, during his post-match press conference following his quarterfinal loss to Carlos Alcaraz on Friday.