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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, May 7, 2022


19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz out-dueled world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) to reach his maiden Madrid final with a historic win.

Photo credit: Getty

Bouncing behind the baseline ready for launch, Carlos Alcaraz delivered epic elevation to Madrid’s Magic Box.

Masterfully mixing forehand rockets with feather duster droppers, Alcaraz out-dueled world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) rising to his maiden Mutua Madrid Open final in a dizzying three hour, 35-minute classic match.

More: Alcaraz Knocks Nadal Out

The 19-year-old Alcaraz made history as the first man to conquer king of clay Rafael Nadal and 20-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic in succession at a clay-court tournament.

Playing with poise and passion that was contagious to the crowd, Alcaraz is the youngest man to defeat the world No. 1 since Nadal celebrated his 19th birthday by beating then-No. 1 Roger Federer in the 2005 Roland Garros semifinals.

"Honestly I don’t know the difference," Alcaraz said. "I mean it was so close. He had chances to break my serve at the end of the second set in the third set as well.

"It was so close in the tiebreaker. I think both of us played unbelievable match. Honestly, I don’t know what to say what is the difference."

Talk about a coming of age tournament.

In a span of a few days, Alcaraz celebrated his 19th birthday on Cinco de Mayo, made history as the first teenager to defeat 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal on dirt in a three-set test, rolling his right ankle in the process, then took down Djokovic in a pressure-packed match days after the Serbian throttled him in a pair of practice sets.

Serenaded by Madrid fans alternately chanting “Yes You Can!” and his name, Alcaraz answered the calls to keep this coming of age party pumping. If he keeps playing like this, the locals will be calling the Magic Box Carlito's Casa.

The victory vaults Miami Open champion Alcaraz into his second Masters 1000 final and to a career-high ranking of No. 6 in the live rankings. Alcaraz carries a 15-1 clay-court record into tomorrow's final vs. either defending champion Alexander Zverev or two-time Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, whom the Spaniard stunned at the 2021 US Open.

Fearlessly taking his crack at history, Alcaraz fired 51 winners—more than double Djokovic’s 24—and did it with power and poise. When Alcaraz wasn’t firing the flame-thrower forehand to back the Wimbledon winner up, he was dripping drop shots with artistic touch—the teenager won 13 of 17 net trips including several set up by the dropper.

"This gives me a lot of confidence right now to play the final tomorrow," Alcaraz said. "I know I am playing a really good game for the rest of the season.

"I think I am able to play against the best players in the world and beat them as well so it gives me a lot of confidence... I mean tomorrow I will go for it for the final as I did in Miami. And yeah really really happy to be able to pay a second Masters 1000 final."

Though Djokovic beat Alcaraz decisively in a pair of practice sets earlier in the week, this was their first ATP meeting and the teenager came out of the blocks with conviction.

"He held his nerves very well," Djokovic said. "For somebody of his age to play so maturely and courageously is impressive. He deserved to win.

"I had a lot of chances, and it was a fantastic match. Great battle. But I am definitely disappointed with not being able to use my chances in the second set. Third set I had a lot of breakpoints.

"Just, yeah, wasn't able to capitalize when it mattered. He did."

Tennis Express

Playing with black kinesiology tape snaking from his right ankle to calf, Alcaraz won the coin toss and elected to return.

The top seed was victimized by an incorrect out call by the linesman, immediately over-ruled by the chair umpire. Djokovic was awarded a first serve, but double faulted to face break point. Alcaraz spun a backhand pass crosscourt breaking in the opening game.

Alcaraz dodged a break point confirming the break.

The Wimbledon winner made his move midway through the set racing up to a drop shot and flicking a fine re-dropper for love-30 on the Spaniard’s serve. Alcaraz used the kick serve and forehand down the line effectively taming trouble to hold for 4-2.

Thirty-five minutes into the match, the top seed altered his return position to give Alcaraz a different look down break point. Djokovic dropped several feet behind the baseline, looped a deep backhand return with plenty of height and spin and drew a netted backhand breaking back to even after eight games.

The vaunted Djokovic return game can be dangerous, but the 34-year-year-old Serbian was imposing on serve after the opening-game break. Djokovic slammed four straight love holds winning 20 of 21 points on serve in snatching a 6-5 lead.

In the tiebreaker, Djokovic drained an error for the mini break and a 2-0 lead. Awaiting the ball to drop, Djokovic carved an audacious angle from his two-hander for 4-1. When Alcaraz netted a backhand down the line, the top seed snatched another mini break and 5-1 lead with a shout.

Spanish flags were flying and the Magic Box was rocking as Alcaraz saved three set points—including firing an ace and finessing a drop shot winner that froze the world No. 1—but Djokovic was undeterred. On his fourth set point, Djokovic closed the 62-minute opener as Alcaraz netted a backhand down the line unleashing a furious uppercut to punctuate the hard-fought set.

The 6’1” Spaniard’s power is impressive—Alcaraz can serve bigger than both Djokovic and Nadal and is equally destructive off both wings—yet it’s the completeness of the teenager’s game that commands attention. Facing two of the best movers of all time, Alcaraz deployed the drop shot beautifully in both quarterfinals and semifinals. Freezing Djokovic with successive drop shot stunners—one off each wing—Alcaraz held for 4-3.

Making a push in the ninth game, Djokovic opened a love-30 lead on the Spaniard’s serve. The depth of Djokovic’s return provoked a narrow miss earning the top seed break point.

Alcaraz saved it with a serve winner then won a drop shot duel at net to earn ad. Racing forward to take moonball out of the air, Alcaraz whipped a drive volley winner and capped a gritty hold with a diagonal forehand and a fist edging ahead 5-4.

Rallying from love-30 down, Djokovic used a daring drop shot to forge a tricky hold and level after 10 games.

Guts and a willingness to take big risk has helped propel the teenager into the Top 10. Alcaraz showed it again denying break point with another deceiving dropper. Emotion spiked and Alcaraz screamed holding strong for 6-5.

Winning a drop-shot duel helped Alcaraz gained triple set point. Alcaraz exudes amazing front-court feel. He showed it speeding up to Djokovic drop shot, the teenager poked a forehand down the line sliding to a stop near net as Madrid fans erupted in screaming support of this drama extending to a decisive set. Alcaraz won 10 of 12 trips to net through the first two sets.

The Spaniard’s explosiveness—and the Serbian’s precision—were the story through two sets. Alcaraz doubled Djokovic’s winner output—30 to 13—but the top seed committed half as many errors (16 to 37).

Two hours, 25 minutes in, Alcaraz hit a high note sliding into a brilliant backhand pass down the line for a break point. Djokovic stung his fifth ace to erase it, but Alcaraz throttled the two-hander for a second break point. Djokovic ran down a drop shot, sliced a smash and survived the test leveling after four games.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion showed his class calmly swiping away two more break points with proactive serving holding for 3-all. Raising the emotional stakes, a fierce Alcaraz ripped a forehand dagger drive down the line capping a hard-fought hold for 4-3.

Climbing out of a love-30 hole, Djokovic evened after eight games then went on the attack. A forehand down the line put the world No. 1 up love-30. Djokovic had a good look at another forehand that would have given him triple break point, but he netted it.

A revitalized Alcaraz answered flashing his 30th forehand winner for 5-4.

Forced to respect the teenager’s power, Djokovic was flat-footed when Alcaraz tormented him with another drop shot winner in the 10th game.

Deadlocked at 30-all, the grunts, groans and spins spiked during a 21-shot rally. Alcaraz stepped in and drilled a forehand winner down the line for match point.

Pausing as a few fans screamed, Djokovic calmly cranked an ace out wide to swipe match point aside. Sharp serving staved off crisis point as Djokovic held for 5-all.

Breaking down Djokovic's defenses in the breaker, Alcaraz also knocked down the wall between athlete and audience. Madrid fans were chanting "Yes You Can!" as Alcaraz cracked a forehand winner for 4-2. Djokovic committed a loose error to face two more match points at 4-6.

On his third match point, Alcaraz spun the kick serve wide to displace Djokovic and slashed one final forehand strike closing a historic win in three hours, 35 minutes. 

The current and perhaps future top-ranked players shared a respectful embrace at net.

Here's hoping Alcaraz continues to tangle with the Big 3 bring more magic to Masters and majors moving forward.


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