The twentieth edition of the Mutua Madrid Open has just given us another truly epic encounter. Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic squared off in the Manolo Santana Stadium, which was bursting at the seams with the spectators providing an electric atmosphere to rival the one they created when he beat his compatriot Rafael Nadal on Friday.
The seventh seed repeated the feat against the ATP’s No. 1 player to become the first man to beat both legends consecutively on clay. Alcaraz came back for a three-set win (6-7, 7-5, 7-6) in 3 hours and 35 minutes to become on Sunday, at 19 years and four days of age, the youngest ever finalist in Madrid. The man from Murcia now awaits the winner of the tie between German player Alexander Zverev (2) and the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas (4).
Alcaraz started the clash proving he was not intimidated by the twenty-time Grand Slam winner by breaking his serve in the opening game. The No. 6 in the ranking, as of next Monday, maintained his lead until 2-4, then Djokovic found his break back in the eighth game to take the lead after three games on the trot (5-4). In the eventual tiebreak, the Balkan converted his fourth set point (7-6).
The intensity continued into a second set that included an astonishing array of shotmaking, and in which Alcaraz let a break point slip in the sixth game, while Djokovic failed to convert two of his own in the ninth and eleventh games. Having been against the ropes, this year’s champion in Rio, Miami and Barcelona took the match into a third set by breaking the Belgrade-native’s serve with a drop-shot masterclass (7-5).
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Alcaraz’s comeback was complete in a third set that was decided, like the first, in a tiebreak. It was a to-and-fro set in which the El Palmar-born player earned himself a match point in the tenth game that he was unable to take advantage of. The tiebreak ended with a 7-5 that was met with an outburst of elation from the home fans.
Having beaten the three-time winner of the Masters 1000 in the Spanish capital (2011, 2016 & 2019), Alcaraz will be the third Spaniard to play in the final. The first was his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2003, when he beat the Chilean Nicolás Massú (6-3, 6-4, 6-3). Nadal has played in eight, of which he won five (2005, 2010, 2013-14 & 2017) and lost just three (2009, 2011 & 2015), making him the most successful player on the Madrid clay.
Head and heart
Alcaraz said on court that although it was a long, tense match, he was able to relish his clash with Djokovic. “It was a match to enjoy, despite the tension of a Masters 1000 semi-final, until the final point, smiling at my team more than once. Playing against the No. 1 in Madrid with this atmosphere is incredible”.
On the keys to the match, the Spaniard said that he was mentally strong. “My granddad always told me that you have to have a head and a heart. I tried to return deep, but I couldn’t find my range. Later I returned better, giving me more time to improve”.