Being the defending champion does nothing to guarantee an easy ride at the Mutua Madrid Open. At a tournament where it is notoriously difficult to protect the throne, Carlos Alcaraz’s attempt to do so began with a match that was not for the faint-hearted. The man from Murcia had to dig deep to get through a dramatic opener, but it was not long before a smile was back on his face in the Spanish capital.
The World No. 2 came back to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 against Finnish player Emil Ruusuvuori after two hours and 14 minutes of relentless hard work. In a match in which he struggled to find the freedom his game normally oozes, the Spaniard demonstrated his innate capacity for survival to claim a worthy victory.
Before sealing his passage to the third round of the tournament, Alcaraz had to dig himself from a gaping hole. Juan Carlos Ferrero’s understudy was able to fend off a relentless barrage from Ruusuvuori, who pushed his opponent to 2-4, 2-3 15/40. The Finn was superlative in every aspect of the game, caressing sublime drop shots, unleashing forehands down the line, and serving ferociously against the home favourite.
“It was really tough, I’d say I was on the verge of losing”, admitted Alcaraz. “It came down to one point. One of the break points he had at 2-3 in the second set was like a match point for him. I’m very happy to have saved that game and recovered. It was difficult. Emil played amazing, but I’m very happy to progress”.
In the face of adversity, and with a quiet Manolo Santana Stadium, the turning point finally came. Alcaraz survived a dramatic game, saving five break points to make it 3-3. For the first time, the Murcia native let out a cry and punched the air, lifting the fans from their slumber.
“When I got to 3-3 in the second set, I thought that was my chance”, revealed Alcaraz. “I tried to make the most of it. I was really, really focused. I tried to get every ball in and run down every point. I tried to play with a good attitude throughout and I managed to come back”.
Now looking something close to his best, Alcaraz broke Ruusuvuori in the seventh game of the set and fixed his sights on the victory. The first seed made it 1-1 and soon pulled away in the third set. There, two early breaks took Carlos to 4-1 and he cruised over the finish line in a match that started out as an uphill battle.
The top seed’s mission in the Caja Mágica will now continue on Sunday. Alcaraz will be looking for a place among the last sixteen against ex-world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov, who saw off Frenchman Gregoire Barrere 7-6(6), 7-6(2) on Friday. The Spaniard has a 1-0 lead in his ATP Head2Head with the Bulgarian after defeating him under the roof of the ATP Masters 1000 in Paris in 2022.
Alcaraz’s win in Madrid is yet another example of his capacity to win in front of his home fans. The Murcia native, the recent champion in Barcelona, has won his last 16 matches on home soil, making him one of the most loved players among the Spanish fans.