A long-awaited match in the perfect location, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz are about to cross paths in the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open in a hugely attractive battle of the generations. One year on, they will meet again with the clay of the Caja Mágica as their backdrop, but unlike in last year’s celebratory match, this time, two of the world’s greatest players will cross swords.
“It’s a very tough match”, acknowledged Nadal, aware of the progress of his adversary. While last season the game was an opportunity to congratulate Carlos on his 18th birthday and welcome him to the tour, now it is a clash between two of the favourites for the title.
“I think that at the moment he’s better than me, he is playing well and has momentum. I’m aware of where we are at the moment. I think I’m a very realistic person, and that doesn’t mean I don’t think I can win, but at the moment, Alcaraz is in the better form. I arrived here without having competed. He’s younger and he’ll have that extra energy”.
Alcaraz picked up the Mallorcan’s gauntlet, he is ready for all-out battle in the Manolo Santana Stadium. “Rafa is the best in history on clay”, acknowledged the Murcia native. “Even if you think I’m favourite, he’s a five-time champion and you have to see him as favourite. I’m the new one, the one who mustn’t feel the pressure of playing against one of the best in history”.
After saving four match points to come through his ordeal against David Goffin in the last sixteen, Nadal is approaching the match with requisite caution. “I’ve no doubt about who will have an advantage in the match. I’ll try to be as competitive as possible. I’ll try to win the match tomorrow, but whatever the result, it’s positive for me in the future”.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is not who’s best. For him it is, maintaining the winning momentum, but for me the important thing is who will be the best in three weeks, that’s my goal”.
It will be the third time the two players have met on tour. Alcaraz’s coming-of-age match in Madrid one year ago was followed by their encounter in the Indian Wells semi-finals a few weeks ago, in which the balance tipped in favour of the Mallorcan in the third set. Spain’s great promise will be bidding to compete with the same intensity this time around.
“I’m going to give my all, I’ll try and play my best tennis”, warned Alcaraz. “I dream of being the best and fight for it. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and I’m ready to face the challenge”.
“I’m on the right path. I’m happy about the way the fans are supporting me. But Rafa is Rafa. People are starting to love me more, but so many more people know Rafa. I hope a small section of the crowd will be behind me, but I’m prepared for the fact that the fans will support him a little bit more”, Carlos explained.
“Playing against Rafa is difficult. Not because he’s my idol, it’s tough for every player. I’m going to think about myself. In the difficult moments, you’ll always be affected by the moment and who you’re playing against. But I’ll try not to think about that, I’ll try not to feel nervous about playing against Rafa, to show him that I’m not nervous, but that I’m capable of playing a good match”.
One thing is sure in the Caja Mágica, the order established on tour for almost two decades continues to be threatened by young pretenders. Nobody represents that cohort of youth more than the 19-year-old Alcaraz, who is now guaranteed to climb, at least, to No. 7 in the world.
“It’s natural. It’s a new generation, it’s what happens throughout history. History repeats itself and fortunately it’s good that someone like Carlos has reached this level to keep our tennis as close to the top as possible for what we hope will be many years”.
“From here on in, I take him as another opponent I have to compete with for the biggest titles. He’s another rival when I’m competing for the most important tournaments, and it’s normal that we have new players”.
This promises to be one unmissable battle in the Caja Mágica.