APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

From Nadal to Alcaraz: the only defenders of the crown

Conquering the Mutua Madrid Open is a feat that is only within reach of a select few. The winners’ circle is replete with players who have graced the ATP Tour’s world number one spot, and two of them stand out from the crowd as the only ones capable of winning as defending champions: Rafa Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz.


A number-one winners’ circle

Of the 21 editions of the Mutua Madrid Open, on eighteen occasions the trophy has ended up in the hands of players who have been ATP world number ones. The stat only adds prestige to the already well-established Spanish Masters 1000.


The aforementioned Nadal and Alcaraz both claimed the title as the No. 1 player in the world, as did, chronologically, Andre Agassi (2002), Juan Carlos Ferrero (2003) and Marat Safin (2004). Subsequently, three other legends would set their names in stone in Madrid more than once: Roger Federer (2006, 2009 and 2012), Andy Murray (2008 and 2015), and Novak Djokovic (2011, 2016 and 2019).


Only Alexander Zverev, in 2018 and 2021, and David Nalbandian, in 2007, managed to claim the throne without having climbed to the summit, numbers two and three respectively being their peak rankings.


Nadal: champion in 2013 and 2014

Roger Federer was the first to earn himself an opportunity at the double. On hard court, the Swiss maestro had a chance to defend the title he picked up in 2006 (7-5, 6-1, 6-0 vs. Fernando González), but in the 2007 final, David Nalbandian proved too much for him (1-6, 6-3, 6-3).


On clay, the Basel native sunk Nadal in 2009 (6-4, 6-4) only for the Spaniard to thwart his bid to defend in 2010 (6-4, 7-6[5]). One year later, the Mallorcan also failed to reclaim the throne in the face of an unstoppable Novak Djokovic (7-5, 6-4).


Nadal produced a Caja Mágica record with the first repeat title in the history of the Mutua Madrid Open (2013 and 2014). The third of the Spaniard’s five crowns kicked off with two convincing wins over Frenchman Benoit Paire (6-3, 6-4) and Mikhail Youzhny (6-2, 6-3). In his last two matches before the final he took out David Ferrer (4-6, 7-6[3], 6-0) and Pablo Andújar (6-0, 6-4).


But his victory over Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka (6-2, 6-4) in the decider was not the end of his run. The following year he picked up where he left off and did not drop a set in the Manolo Santana Stadium until the title match: Juan Mónaco (6-1, 6-0), Jarkko Nieminen (6-1, 6-4), Tomas Berdych (6-4, 6-2) and Roberto Bautista (6-4, 6-3).


Kei Nishikori came agonisingly close to preventing the champ from holding on to his crown. The Japanese player caught Nadal off guard and raced to a one set lead and a break up in the second. However, the Manacor native reacted and his opponent eventually retired with an injury (2-6, 6-4, 3-0 RET).


Alcaraz: champion in 2022 and 2023

Before Carlos Alcaraz joined Nadal as one of the only two players able to defend their Mutua Madrid Open titles, Andy Murray and Alexander Zverev had both tried and failed to do so. The Briton, having overcome the Balearic Islander in 2015 (6-3, 6-2), came so close the following year but lost the final to Djokovic (6-2, 3-6, 6-3).


For his part, the German claimed the trophy in 2021 (6-7[8], 6-4, 6-3 against Matteo Berrettini) having done the same three years earlier. In 2022, he was back in the final, where he crossed paths with a dominant Alcaraz, who was about to begin his reign in the Spanish capital (6-3, 6-1).


The first time the Murcia native lifted the trophy in the Caja Mágica, it was very special. After two hard-earned wins over the Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili (6-3, 7-5) and Briton Cameron Norrie (6-4, 6-7[4], 6-3), he played two matches that will live long in the memories of the fans in the Manolo Santana Stadium.


Alcaraz became the first player to beat Nadal (6-2, 1-6, 6-3 in the quarters) and Djokovic (6-7[5], 7-5, 7-6[5] in the semis) on clay in the same tournament. Against the Serb, he came through a 3 hour and 36-minute marathon before becoming Madrid’s youngest champion, at 19 years and 3 days of age, breaking the Mallorcan’s record (19 years and five months).


In last year’s event, the El Palmar native grew his legacy. Having come through a tough opener, where he came back to beat Finland’s Emiil Ruusuvuori (2-6, 6-4, 6-2), he cruised his way to the final without losing another set against Grigor Dimitrov (6-2 , 7-5), Zverev (6-1, 6-2), Karen Khachanov (6-4, 7-5) and Borna Coric (6-4, 6-3).


However, Jan-Lennard Struff, who surprised everyone by becoming the first ‘lucky-loser’ to reach the final of an ATP Masters 1000, ensured that Alcaraz had to dig deep to keep his throne in a close battle that went to three sets (6-4, 3-6, 6-3).


Bidding for the first triple

In 2024 Alcaraz has another Mutua Madrid Open in his sights. Nobody has yet been able to claim three titles on the trot in the Spanish capital. Nadal came closest after his consecutive wins in 2013 and 2014, followed by a runner-up finish the following year.


Andy Murray was the man that stopped him from making it three of a kind that year (6-3, 6-2) and the opportunity to achieve the feat now falls to the young two-time Grand Slam champion, who has a record of 12 wins from 13 matches in the Caja Mágica and was victorious in his last eleven clashes there.


Without a doubt, it is within Alcaraz’s powers to keep breaking records in front of his home fans, at one of his favourite stomping grounds. Given the US Open and Wimbledon champion’s strong connection with Madrid, could another chapter in his love affair with the event already be written in the stars?