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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday May 5, 2022

Rafael Nadal made it clear how he feels about burgeoning talent Carlos Alcaraz after he defeated the then 18-year-old at Indian Wells in March.

“I don't have many doubts that he will be great,” Nadal said after the pair played a riveting three-set battle in swirling wind. “He is already, by the way.”

Tennis Express

On Thursday, after Nadal valiantly saved four match points to escape the clutches of Belgium's David Goffin, the Spaniard had more to say about his esteemed compatriot. When asked if he was ready to be a part of a new rivalry in Spanish tennis, he said:

“I don't think I will reach that rivalry. I'm 36 years old.”

A few hours later Alcaraz took the court and wowed the crowd with his shotmaking prowess as he edged tenacious Cameron Norrie, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-3. It wasn’t his most jaw-dropping display but it was plenty good to knock off the No.9 seed and tick his record up to an eye-opening 25-3 on the season.

Nadal, 22-1 in 2022, will turn 36 in less than a month, but after his three hour and nine-minute slog with Goffin, he seemed to feel like he aged a year over the course of the match. Playing in his first event since recovering from the stress fracture in his rib that he suffered against Alcaraz at Indian Wells, Nadal is still shaking off rust and realistic about his chances against Alcaraz.

He considers himself to be at the beginning of a process that will take time to complete, and he believes the 19-year-old to be the favorite in this their third meeting.

“I think that today, he is better than me and he has a good dynamic, a good momentum,” Nadal said. “I am conscious on what we have right now. I think I am a very realistic person, and that doesn't take me to not believe that I can win or that I can do it, but today I think that Alcaraz is in a better physical state of mind, is more fit. I came here without playing. He's younger, so he has that extra energy.”

Watching both men move through their round of 16 contest today, it’s hard to disagree with Nadal. The five-time Madrid and 21-time major champion struggled to find the court at times against Goffin, and squandered a break lead in the second set. He was one shot from heading to Rome on four occasions but managed to survive.

But what will he have left against the bristling teenager who seems to be operating with a seemingly limitless reserve of energy?

Alcaraz believes you can never count Nadal out. He likes to say that his idol has “1,000 lives” and always can find a way to win even when down and out. He believes he will be the underdog on Friday.

“I'm going to say the opposite of what he says,” Alcaraz said. “He's one of the best players of the world, and I would say the best player in the world on clay. You know, even though he says that I'm the favorite, that he's not fit enough, that he comes from an injury, you always have to think of Rafa as the favorite because he has already won here five times and all of the things he has achieved on clay.

“At the end of the day, I'm the new boy, the newcomer, the one that should not have any pressure when playing against one of the best players of history.”

No matter who is the underdog, the pair’s third meeting should be thrilling on many levels. The King of Clay, the ultimate legend of the game, against a player that has fans of men’s tennis excited in a way they haven’t been since the Big 3 were coming of age in the early to mid-2000s.

Alcaraz has stormed the scened in the last year, becoming the youngest quarterfinalist in US Open Open Era history last September, then becoming the youngest champion in Rio history on the red clay in February, and the youngest Miami champion on the hard courts in April. He owns three title and is now a card-carrying member of the ATP's Top-10 - and he'll still be a teenager for another year.

But Nadal has downplayed his chances before, and come out on top, especially on his beloved red clay. To expect anything less than a stellar performance from Nadal would be foolish.

“We both come here to these matches with very different circumstances and I accept it, and the only thing I can do is to face tomorrow's match as happy as possible, with the appropriate determination, and try to seek my opportunities, and hopefully it will be useful for me for the future,” Nadal said. “I want to enjoy every single match. What I want to do is win, but I'm also conscious of the moment that I am in.”


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