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Carlos Alcaraz claims full-circle win over Rafael Nadal in Madrid, Novak Djokovic awaits
The on-fire Spaniard weathered an acute ankle injury to earn his first win over his childhood idol, and book a semifinal clash with the world No. 1.
Published May 06, 2022
WATCH: Alcaraz ended en epic clash with Nadal with one of the best rallies of the day.
Carlos Alcaraz completed his 12-month metamorphosis from youthful challenger to standard bearer, scoring a statement win over childhood idol Rafael Nadal, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 to reach the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals and become the first teenager to defeat Nadal on clay.
Top seed Novak Djokovic awaits the winner of this much-anticipated clash, and Alcaraz will get his first chance to play the world No. 1 after weathering an ankle injury and a vintage challenge from Nadal in two hours and 17 minutes on Manolo Santana Stadium.
When Alcaraz faced Nadal for the first time in Madrid last year, he endured a birthday blitz that illustrated the gap between the teenager and the soon-to-be 21-time Grand Slam champion. They met again 10 months later at the BNP Paribas Open and it was a different encounter entirely: Alcaraz had put on an entire man’s worth of muscle and pushed Nadal to the brink in brutal conditions.
Nadal narrowly escaped with the win that day, but incurred a rib injury in the process, forcing him out of action for nearly a month before he could return for one of his favorite tournaments. A five-time champ at the Caja Magica, he edged through a tricky opening round against an in-form Miomir Kecmanovic and saved four match points to book the Alcaraz rematch.
In his absence, Alcaraz, coached by former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, has arguably become the tour’s top player—certainly the biggest story—by winning the Miami and Barcelona Opens to secure his Top 10 debut. Having turned 19 on Thursday, the No. 7 seed needed a three-setter of his own to face Nadal, weathering a late surge from former Indian Wells winner Cameron Norrie to face his childhood idol for a second time this season, and was quick to show off his improvements in the last year through the first three games.
The two traded lengthy breaks of serve but it was Alcaraz who emerged on top in the early goings, pinning Nadal to the forehand side with ruthless efficiency as he consolidated his hard-earned advantage. Trending towards the back foot, Nadal whipped up his inimitable forehand spin to briefly stave off Alcaraz and secure a first hold, but couldn’t convert a 15-30 lead in the following game as his young rival repeatedly crashed the net to maintain his lead.
Tripping up the King of Clay with a mix of angles and drop shots, Alcaraz earned two more break points thanks to a few audacious backhand returns and roared through 11 of the final 12 points to claim the opening set—striking 19 winners to 2 from Nadal.
Nadal’s second set threatened to begin as inauspiciously with an overhead dumped in the net, but the former No. 1 managed a hold and nabbed a 0-40 lead on Alcaraz’s serve. The youngster bravely saved all three—two with approaches to net—but a nasty fall seemed to shake his concentration. Requiring a medical timeout to strap his ankle, errors began to flow as Nadal looked poised to surge through the next three games.
An even lengthier interruption followed when a spectator fell ill, but Nadal kept focused to steamroll through the second set, winning 20 of the final 22 points to force a decider.
Alcaraz would wave no white flag despite his change of attire to start the third, steadying admirably and knocking a 10th backhand winner into the open court to take a 0-40 lead on Nadal’s serve—converting to his more experienced opposition’s growing frustration.
Digging out of a 15-30 deficit, the teenager found himself on track for his biggest win yet, moving within a game of victory with the help of a friendly netcord.
Though Nadal gamely served to stay in the match, Alcaraz proved undaunted with the finish line in sight, nailing a backhand pass and dealing a deft drop shot to earn match point.
A thrilling conclusion saw Alcaraz at his most Nadal-esque, whipping a forehand pass to beat his idol on an astounding third try.
The road to winning his first Madrid title gets no easier as Alcaraz—who wrote a gleeful "What just happened?" on the camera lens—will take on Djokovic for the first time. After some weeks of struggle, the 20-time major champion has at last looked like his former self with an 80-minute win over Hubert Hurkacz earlier in the afternoon.