There can be no doubt that Carlos Alcaraz is the real deal following his defeat of the ‘King of Clay’ in the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open Masters event which produced some dramatic and lengthy exchanges and some off court drama in what was an electrifying atmosphere generated by the Old Bull, Rafa Nadal and the youngster destined to fill his shoes when the Spanish icon retires.
It means a lot to me,. 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. Carlos Alcaraz
The 6-2 1-6 6-3 score line correctly suggests a bit of a see-saw match with the 19-year-old in control of the first and third sets but that wasn’t the full story.
Nadal was not at full power having gone through a three-hour marathon the previous day while Alcaraz was full of energy and relishing the test against the greatest clay court player of all time!
The teenager was not awed by his opponent and from the start the exchanges were lengthy and strong with both players breaking each other with the youngster seemingly having an edge on what looked a weary Nadal.
After30-minutes Alcaraz gained the initiative to pull ahead decisively and establish a psychological advantage much to the horror of the large portion of Nadal supporters filling the Manolo Santana court in the Caja Magica.
But things changed dramatically in the second set after the court had been watered and brushed, causing Alcaraz to stumble badly going for wide shot to his right and after medical treatment to his ankle, dusted himself down to return gingerly to the court. Later a person in the crowd suffering from some serious problem, brought the match to a halt while medical attention was delivered.
The two breaks allowed Nadal to get back into the match and he comfortably cruised through to level and force a decider.
There Alcaraz recovered his mojo proving he had the mental strength as well as a great range of strokes in his armoury and was ready to deal with whatever was thrown at him.
Having regained his range he secured an early break which proved to be all he needed to run out the winner and secure his first win in four meetings with his idol.
“It means a lot to me,” said Alcaraz who was crushed by Nadal in Madrid a year ago. “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.”
He did admit that his fall and the medical break for an unfortunate fan had distracted him in the second set.
“It affected me a lot,” the youngster revealed. “When I lost the second set, I 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.”
And as fans have come to expect from Nadal, he was realistic bearing in mind he had been off with a rib injury for six weeks before his arrival in the Spanish capital.
“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,” Nadal said following his defeat. “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 in the world with no doubts, I even had my opportunities.
“I have played two-and-a-half hours and three matches. This is a positive outcome. From here onwards, just looking forward with optimism and happy and excited. We will see what happens. You have to believe.”
Nadal now heads to Rome as he continues his preparations for Roland Garros while Alcaraz gets a first meeting with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic for a place in the final in his chase for a second Masters title of the season following his success in Miami.
Djokovic, who received a walk-over from Andy Murray in the third round, eased past Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 6-3 6-4.
“I was serving really well in the second set, I think that kept me alive,” Djokovic said in 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.
“It is definitely warmer today, even in the past two hours since the warm-up, the bounce of the ball has increased by two metres. Hubi is tall and with his rotation in this altitude, everything bounces really high, so I was standing [deep] in the court, trying to mix things up. Put pressure on his first serve. It took us both time to adjust and the second set I think was better quality.”
Defending champion Alexander Zverev progressed despite nine double faults as he overcame Canada’s Felix Auger Aliassime 6-3 7-5.
“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.
“I couldn’t put a serve in the court,” he added. “I had chances to go up 5-1 in the second set and I think the match would have been over. But I didn’t use my chances and he fought back well. But I kept fighting as well, and that’s how I got the win.”
On Saturday his rivalry with Stefanos Tsitsipas resumes. The Monte Carlo champion was too good for Andrey Rublev, defeating the Muscovite 6-3 2-6 6-4 to reach his 10th Masters semi-final.
“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 after fending off two Rublev break points in the final game to clinch the win. “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.”
Tsitsipas leads Zverev 7-3 and 3-0 on clay.