APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Alcaraz steals another epic in Madrid

“I missed this so much”.

What Carlos Alcaraz scrawled on the camera straight after the match perfectly summed up his Tuesday afternoon in the Manolo Santana Stadium. To earn a place among the last eight at the Mutua Madrid Open, the Spaniard had to unpick the game of Jan-Lennard Struff in a rematch of last year’s final at the tournament. On a sunny day, the man from Murcia came up against his toughest challenge so far in his campaign. Despite the result, the defending champion should take heed; there is a target on his back and there are plenty of players willing to take a shot at it.

The world No. 3 had to survive a nerve-wracking encounter, in which he eventually beat the German 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(5) after two hours and fifty-two minutes of tennis. Against an aggressive opponent, Alcaraz’s forehand was given a stern test. It is a shot he is still unable to fully unleash due to an injury that appeared in Monte Carlo. If the priority was to swing freely without hurting himself, it was one that Alcaraz passed with flying colours in a vertiginous encounter, knuckling down when he needed to in order to achieve his goal.

“It was amazing to be able to play at this level for 3 hours after a month without competing”, explained the Spaniard. “It was difficult to manage my emotions during the match. I was tense from the moment I stepped on to court until the last point. That caused some ups and downs in the second and third set, but that’s tennis. You have to deal with these things. Physically, in the end I felt a bit low and that’s when he was playing his best. I’m so happy to have managed my emotions at the end of the match, to finish playing well and to have another chance in the next round”.

Having waltzed through his first two matches in the Caja Magica, Alcaraz now had to draw on his ability to fight. The Spaniard dominated early (6-3, 2-0), but then the tie opened up and the home favourite had to hold on tight and resist a relentless barrage from his opponent for two sets. In his first event on European clay this season, this is another positive the prodigious Spaniard can take from the match; being able to repel the pressure of a tight match.

At no point was the tension ramped as high as at the end of the encounter. Having lost the second-set tiebreak, Alcaraz then had to deal with a raft of sticky situations. The Spaniard, who had never endured such a close finish in the Caja Magica, let slip his 4-1 lead before four match points passed him by on his own serve. He eventually crossed the finish line in the deciding tiebreak.

In a match that lasted almost 3 hours, the Murcia native was very happy to see his forearm survive its biggest test this week in the Caja Magica intact.

“There are times when unconsciously I don’t unleash my forehand and sometimes I can be hesitant. But in general it’s fine. I try not to think about it and concentrate on the match. There may have been some panic attacks in my team because of some stretches I did, but having played three hours at this level is positive”.

Their clash was completely different to that of 2023. One year ago, Struff was making the most of a second chance as he became the first lucky loser to reach the final of an ATP Masters 1000. Having lost in qualifying and returned to the main draw, he ended up three games away from lifting the cup. This time around, now one of the best 25 players in the world, the German was a more daunting prospect.

The venomous shots of Alcaraz’s opponent proved to be a stern test. A few weeks ago, on the clay of Munich, Jan-Lennard lifted the first trophy of his career at 34, when most players would be contemplating retirement. The win meant he arrived in Madrid this week riding a wave of confidence that, coupled with his ferocious ball speed, almost sent the Spaniard packing. The match was a mixture of big serves and net play, forcing the defending champion to sharpen his reflexes with every rally.

Now, Alcaraz will have to defeat some of the best players in the locker room if he is to continue his love affair with Madrid. He will play his quarter-final clash against world No. 8 Andrey Rublev, whom he has never met on clay.