Carlos Alcaraz completed his 12-month transformation from young challenger to standard-bearer by defeating boyhood hero Rafael Nadal in the Mutua Madrid Open quarterfinals, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, becoming the first teenager to beat Nadal on clay.
The victor of this highly anticipated match will face the top seed, Novak Djokovic. Carlos Alcaraz will have his first opportunity to meet the world No. 1 after overcoming an ankle ailment and a classic challenge from Rafael Nadal in two hours and 17 minutes at Manolo Santana Stadium.
When Carlos Alcaraz first met Nadal in Madrid last year, he mattered to a birthday barrage that highlighted the disparity between the adolescent and the soon-to-be 21-time Grand Slam winner. They met again at the BNP Paribas Open 10 months later.
Carlos Alcaraz pushed Nadal
It was a completely different match this time with Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal came close to winning that day, but he suffered a rib injury, causing him to miss almost a month of play before returning for one of his favorite events. He won the Caja Magica five times before edging off an in-form Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round and saving four match points to set up a meeting with Carlos Alcaraz.
During his absence, Carlos Alcaraz, coached by former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, has perhaps emerged as the tour’s best player—indeed the most compelling story—after winning the Miami and Barcelona Opens and securing his Top 10 debut. After facing his boyhood hero for the second time this season. The No. 7 seed required a three-setter to meet Nadal, surviving a late push from former Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie, and was eager to show off his progress in the previous year through the first three games.
With a combination of angles and drop shots, Carlos Alcaraz secured two more break opportunities owing to a few daring backhand returns and surged through 11 of the last 12 games to take the first set, smashing 19 winners to Nadal’s two.
Nadal’s second set seemed to start badly with an overhead dropped in the net, but the former No. 1 held and took an 0-40 lead on Carlos Alcaraz’s serve. The boy bravely saved all three—two with net approaches—but a severe tumble appeared to throw him off. Errors continued to flow as Nadal seemed prepared to burst through the following three games. Necessitating a medical stoppage to strap his ankle.
Despite his change of apparel to begin the third set. Carlos Alcaraz remained calm and composed, hitting a tenth backhand winner. Into the open court to take an 0-40 lead on Nadal’s serve, much to his more experienced opponent’s rising displeasure.
Though Nadal fought valiantly to remain in the match. Carlos Alcaraz showed no fear as the finish line approached, striking a backhand pass. And delivering a brilliant drop shot to earn a match point.