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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, May 7, 2023


Carlos Alcaraz topped lucky loser Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to join Rafael Nadal as the second man to successfully defend the Mutua Madrid Open.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Facing fear is a prerequisite for premier championships.

Spooked by Jan-Lennard Struff's damaging returns in the second set, Carlos Alcaraz didn't shrink from the trauma.

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A fearless Alcaraz held the line and hammered through Struff's stress, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to capture his second straight Mutua Madrid Open crown.

The US Open champion joined compatriot Rafael Nadal (2013-2014) as just the second man in history to collect consecutive Mutua Madrid Open championships.

"It was tough," Alcaraz told Tennis Channel's Prakash Amritraj afterward. "The first set it was close as well. The second set I had my chances to break his serve when he was up, but I couldn't do that.

"But I think it was a complete match from both and I'm really, really happy to get through a really tough battle."

Two days after celebrating his 20th birthday, the top seed sustained the Age of Alcaraz scoring his 21st consecutive clay-court victory on home soil. Alcaraz raised his 2023 record to 29-2 claiming his fourth title of the season while improving to 4-0 in Masters 1000 finals.

The victory vaults Alcaraz almost right back to the top of the sport. The former world No. 1 now trails top-ranked Novak Djokovic by just five ranking points in the ATP Live rankings. Alcaraz, who has said he plans to play Rome, will surpass the Serbian superstar and regain the top spot by playing his Rome opener.

The ATP's youngest year-end No. 1 in history edged Djokovic in a three-hour thriller in Madrid last May and now the pair could be posed for a showdown in Rome or Paris.

A year after Alcaraz annihilated another German in the Madrid final, Alexander Zverev, he was truly tested for two sets by Struff, who serve-and-volleyed and attacked his second-serve returns unsettling the defending champion.

Spare a thought for Struff, who made history as the first lucky loser to reach a Masters 1000 final in history.

The 33-year-old German was knocked out of qualifying by Aslan Karatsev, slipped into the main draw, shocked former Roland Garros finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals, knocked Karatsev out of the semifinals then pushed home favorite Alcaraz for two hours, 25 minutes.

"It's been an incredible journey for me," Struff said. "Losing qualies here coming in as a lucky loser to the event it was just amazing to get a second chance. Thank you everyone for the support."

Alcaraz's best tennis eluded him for parts of this final largely because Struff attacked relentlessly and rushed the Spaniard at times. Struff won 28 of 44 trips to net and hit 12 more winners—30 to 18—but Alcaraz kept calm and carved out some clever drop shots at crunch time to collect his 10th career championship.

Despite not playing his most dynamic tennis, Alcaraz still turned it up when required winning five of the final seven games to defend his title. 

  Tennis Express

  Bidding to become the oldest maiden Masters 1000 champion, Struff showed stress hitting a couple of double faults to face double break point in the opening game. Struff serve-and-volleyed, but a speedy Alcaraz ran down a drop volley and flipped a lob the leaping German could not control to earn the opening break.

Fending off a break point with a biting body serve, Alcaraz withstood a nine-minute hold to confirm the break for 2-0.

The 6'4" German was picking up the Spaniard's serve and slamming some deep returns that left Alcaraz lunging. The top seed's kick serve on the ad side wasn't posing too much trouble to Struff, who leaned in and lasered a two-handed return winner down the line to wrap a love break in the fourth game.

Deploying the serve-and-volley, Struff held at 15 forging his first lead of the day at 3-2.

Two games later, Alcaraz danced around a backhand and clubbed a forehand return winner down the line for deuce. Struff saved a break point but spit up his fourth double fault to cede the break and a 4-3 lead to Alcaraz.

Varying the spins and speeds on serve, Alcaraz held at 30 to back up the break for 5-3.

Serving for the set, Alcaraz felt the wrath of Struff's returns falling into a triple-break point hole.

The top seed erased all three break points, including summoning Struff forward with a mediocre dropper than passing him with a magical lob inside the baseline to draw even at deuce.

A pumped-up Alcaraz blasted a backhand right by Struff to snatch the 52-minute opening set.  Alcaraz saved four of five break points in the set.

Bursting back to start the second set, Struff tore through 12 of the first 16 points knocking off a high volley to break at 15 for 2-0. Struff consolidated the break at 15 for a 3-0 second-set lead.

The lucky loser showed guts and grit in a draining near 15-minute fifth game. Struff swept aside multiple break points and kept charging forward pulling off a stirring, spinning drop volley winner to complete a hard-fought hold for 4-1.

Serving to force a decider at 5-3, Struff came back from 15-30 down and laced an ace for set point.

Serving and volleying again, Struff bent low and scooped out a superb drop volley winner to force a final set after one hour, 42 minutes of play.

The deceptive drop shot Alcaraz produces is even more effective because he can hit it off either wing. Backing Struff up with a series of deep drives, Alcaraz pulled the string on a sweet backhand drop shot winner for break points.

Waving his hand to exhort fans, Alcaraz looked fired up for his ninth break point and made the most of it. Firing a drive from behind the baseline, Alcaraz tested the net-rushing Struff coaxing an errant volley to break for 3-1.

Alcaraz raced through a love hold to back up the break for 4-1.

Seeing the finish line, Alcaraz sprinted through it.

Converting championship point, Alcaraz fell flat on his back and stared straight up at the sky soaking in another Madrid magical moment. 


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