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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 6, 2022

 
Carlos Alcaraz

19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz conquered his tennis idol Rafael Nadal 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 to charge into the Madrid semifinals vs. world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Photo credit: Getty

Madrid’s Magic Box broiled as metallic pressure cooker.

Carlos Alcaraz was looking a little charred.

Nadal: Alcaraz Is Better Than Me Today

Climbing off the red clay after a jarring second-set fall, Alcaraz arose to knock out the king of clay.

In a battle of the ages, 19-year-old Alcaraz conquered his tennis idol Rafael Nadal 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 to charge into his maiden Mutua Madrid Open semifinal.




It's a historic win as Alcaraz is the first teenager to beat 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal on clay and the youngest man to reach the Madrid semifinals.

Before a roaring crowd that included the King of Spain, Alcaraz dominated the first set, saw Nadal streak through five straight games to seize the second then reset and played with poise, power and daring in a phenomenal all-court close.

In a match that some will see as a passing of the torch for Spanish tennis, Alcaraz earned a historic victory snapping the 35-year-old Nadal’s streak of 25 straight wins vs. Spanish opponents. That streak spanned six years since Nadal’s last loss to a compatriot—Fernando Verdasco—at the 2016 Australian Open.

“What just happened?” Alcaraz wrote on the court-side camera lens in a sentiment likely shared by many of the thousands of fans in attendance who witnessed a wild one.

“It means a lot to me,” Alcaraz said afterward. “I mean all the hard work I put in every day pays off today. To beat Rafa, to beat the best player in history on clay, it means a lot to me.”

Rising from that fall, Alcaraz didn’t win another game in the second set. A bathroom break before third helped him reset and restrengthen his resolve.

“It affect a lot to me the fall in the second set,” Alcaraz said. “But well when I lost the second I went to the bathroom thought I was able to comeback.

“To do my best, try everything on court fight until the last ball and I think it was the key.”




Scaling a monumental mountain in mastering his tennis hero, Alcaraz knows he will have to lift his level again against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in tomorrow’s semifinals. And the teenager was eager to turn to a secret weapon—David Nalbandian who famously beat the Big 3 in succession to capture the 2007 Madrid championship.

“Of course, I am focused on tomorrow,” Alcaraz said after his fifth straight Top 10 win. “I will text Nalbandan how he did it. I will fight and let’s see what happens tomorrow.”

Twenty-one time Grand Slam champion Nadal was showered with applause as he departed.

Citing their 16-year age gap, Nadal said time makes passing of the torch moments inevitable in tennis.

"Congratulations to him, Nadal said. "I don't know, handover, of course it is. He's 19 years old. His birthday was yesterday. Me, I'm 36 years old. Of course it's a handover.

"From here onwards, if it's today or not, we will see next months. First thing I'm happy in that regard. He has been better than me in several aspects of the match and several aspects of the game, and I need to improve, as I have said, these days."

Despite this defeat, Nadal should draw confidence from his first tournament in 45 days given he hadn't had a full practice until a week before Madrid.




What a difference a year makes.

Last May, Nadal rampaged through Alcaraz's 18th birthday permitting just three games in their first meeting in Madrid. The rematch was a dramatic, dynamic and disjointed match that was truly three different acts of a play today.

Both champions took turns playing high level tennis but didn’t really start clicking simultaneously until the end of the match. The second set featured a couple of disruptions—first Alcaraz took a medical timeout after crashing to the court then play was suspended apparently to attend to a fan with a health issue—and the Barcelona champion took the bathroom break before the decider.

In a jittery start, the pair traded breaks. Alcaraz, who whipped a forehand down the line to break in the opening game, double-faulted back the break in the second game. Still, Alcaraz’s adrenaline was clear as he rocketed a 141 mph ace to save a break point.

Tennis Express

Twenty minutes into the match, Alcaraz was punishing his forehand pushing Nadal side-to-side in running rallies. The teenager attacked behind a massive forehand drive volley scoring the third straight break for 2-1.




The world No. 9 held at 15 to back up the break for 3-1.

Scraping to gain traction in extended exchanges, Nadal pressured the Miami Open champion to 15-30 in the sixth game.

Showing all-court acumen, Alcaraz made a couple of slick volleys and closed knifing a beautiful high backhand volley for 4-2.

Nadal needed to make a stand, but another whiplash winner from Alcaraz gave him two break points. Alcaraz gave Nadal a taste of his own shot-making medicine firing a flying forehand winner down the line that pasted the line.




That audacious winner sealed Alcaraz’s third break in four Nadal service games for 5-2.

An imposing Alcaraz soared through 10 of the last 11 points throttling through a love hold for a one-set lead after 47 minutes.

An unsettling murmur emerged from Madrid fans in collective surprise. Alcaraz dominated delivering 19 winners to 2 for the king of clay, including a 10 to 2 edge in forehand winners.



The left-handed Spaniard’s serve helped him save four match points fighting off 60th-ranked David Goffin in a third-set tiebreaker yesterday. Despite serving 74 percent in the opening set today, Nadal saw Alcaraz often trash his serve—the teenager won 57 percent of Nadal’s first serve points in the first set.

Knowing he needed to go bigger and bolder, Nadal did exactly that. Fighting through a hard-fought hold, Nadal flipped the script gaining triple break point in the second game of the second set.

Alcaraz swept aside all three including a sweet serve-and-volley that saw him flick a drop volley winner off his shoelaces. Winning five straight points, Alcaraz held strong as his dad exhaled deeply and swallowed a deep gulp water from his court-side seat.

The set turned on a fall. Alcaraz rolled his right ankle and mashed his hand crashing to the court awkwardly chasing a forehand to end the third game.

Though Alcaraz offered a thumbs-up, he took a medical timeout to have the ankle taped.

After about an eight-minute delay, Alcaraz returned to serve, a wide swath of red clay streaking the back of his deep green shirt, only to see Nadal race out to triple break point lead again.

A rattled Alcaraz floated an error dropping serve at love in the fourth game. An apparent medical issue with a fan in the stands halted play. During the break, Alcaraz slowly stretched out his right ankle and did some calf raises. After a few minute break, Nadal held for 4-1.




Trying to shorten points, Alcaraz twice tried to serve-and-volley and lost both points as Nadal broke again for 5-1. Nadal served out the second set at love on a serve-and-volley of his own, storming through 20 of the last 23 points, to force a final set after one hour, 40 minutes.




Halting a five-game slide was vital for Alcaraz, who started the decider sporting a clean white shirt ironing out his first hold since game two of the second set.

A recharged Alcaraz was dancing behind the baseline and again applying his all-court skills in the fourth game. A nervous Nadal botched a backhand volley. Two points later, Alcaraz leaned into a blistering backhand winner for triple break point—his first break points since the first set. Alcaraz broke for 3-1 on a netted Nadal error.

An impressive aspect of Alcaraz’s performance today was how well his backhand withstood the barrage of Nadal’s crackling crosscourt topspin—and his skill stepping around the backhand at times and detonating points with his heavy forehand. Alcaraz navigated a tight hold confirming for 4-1.

Playing with poise and creativity serving for the semifinals, Alcaraz closed with a flurry of fantastic forehands. Alcaraz opened with a shrewd serve-and-volley winner and poked a backhand pass to end an electric running exchange.

Deadlocked at 30-all, Alcaraz softened his hand with a superb forehand drop shot winner.

In an electric match point, Alcaraz ran down a Nadal drive with a sliding backhand dig on a ball behind him to extend the point, reversed course then ripped a running forehand pass down the line to end it with a bang.




"I always think that in the tough moments, in important moments, you have to go for it," Alcaraz said. "I did that great serve. Rafa returns obviously in the back of the court, and I just went to the net, just go for the points. As all the points in the last game, I just think go for it. If you miss it, at least you went for it."

Prior to his opening round, Alcaraz said his only birthday wish was a Madrid rematch against the Grand Slam king Nadal.


Alcaraz had the answer and posed the question afterward.

What just happened?

We’re not exactly sure but it sure was a blast to watch.

The big question now: How will Alcaraz's ankle hold up for the semifinal?

"Talking about my ankle, right now I'm going to say that it's fine," Alcaraz said. "I am going to do all that's in my hands to be able to recover for tomorrow so it's not at 100% but 200% for tomorrow."

 

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