Today, at the Madrid Open, the colliding of two worlds occurred. Rafael Nadal, arguably the greatest player of all time, was to take on Carlos Alcaraz, the Spanish teenager that is taking the tennis world and tour by storm. The match that took place this afternoon in Madrid was one of the most hyped tennis matches of the year, but this one actually lived up to it.
Both Nadal and Alcaraz had tough tests to make it to the quarter-finals. Nadal outlasted David Goffin in a three-set epic in the afternoon session, while Carlos Alcaraz needed three sets to dispatch Cam Norrie. Coming off an injury and being the older player, Nadal had a distinct disadvantage coming into the match. However, the five-time champion at the Madrid Open could never be counted out.
The match started with an embrace at the net between the great champion and the soon-to-be great teenager. Both men can be seen arm-in-arm smiling at the camera in what proved to be the calm before the storm. In a packed stadium, the fans could hardly wait for the first ball to be tossed in the air.
It was Rafael Nadal who started the match serving. In the first game, Alcaraz would set the tone, breaking Nadal’s serve. Alcaraz would try to consolidate the break in his first game but Nadal broke the teenager back to get back on serve. At this point, the first set looked like it would be a grueling contest, once the nerves were settled.
In Nadal’s second service game, Alcaraz would break again. This time he would hold serve and grab the early lead in the match with massive groundstrokes off the ground. Nadal would go on to get broken again in the 1st set, three times in total in the opening set, and Alcaraz would take the 1st set comfortably, 6-2.
The 2nd set opened with Nadal serving and much of the same as the 1st set. Nadal struggled to hold serve but did eventually, and the 2nd set was off. Nadal would squander three break points on Alcaraz’s serve and Alcaraz was able to level the 2nd set at 1-1. This is when Nadal would start to establish himself.
Nadal would hold serve, comfortably for once, and broke Alcaraz on his next service game to make the score 3-1. After a minor delay due to a fan in distress, Nadal held serve to make it 4-1. Alcaraz would lose his serve again and Nadal would close the 2nd set out, 6-1. This match would be decided in a winner-take-all 3rd set.
After a bathroom break from Alcaraz, the 3rd set started. The dominant performance of the first two sets from both players had this match up in the air for either player to take. Nadal, with the momentum, felt like the favorite.
Carlos Alcaraz would serve to open the 3rd set and hold serve. Nadal would hold serve and Alcaraz would do the same to make it 2-1 in the final set. In his second service game, Nadal would falter and Alcaraz took full advantage, breaking Nadal to make the score 3-1. Alcaraz would go on to hold serve and not face any break points for the rest of the match. Carlos Alcaraz took the final set, 6-3.
For Nadal, this is a disappointing loss because any loss on clay is surprising and disappointing. However, this is Nadal’s first match since Indian Wells after taking some time off with a stress fracture in his foot. Just the fact Nadal was able to play three matches, two of which very high-level is an accomplishment for Nadal. For Rafa, the goal isn’t the Madrid Open. The goal is to win Roland Garros and the matches in Madrid will go a very long way in getting Nadal ready for Paris.
For Carlos Alcaraz, the win over Nadal today just marked another massive step in the coronation process of Alcaraz. It was just one year ago, at this very same tournament, where Nadal destroyed Alcaraz, 6-1 6-2. In just one year, Alcaraz has become a top-ten player and beat Nadal on clay. It’s beyond impressive.
Now, after the hurdle that is Nadal has been cleared, Carlos Alcaraz will face the defending French Open champion, Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. Another massive test in the development of Alcaraz and to see how close he is to being the best player in the world. Another great match for all of the tennis world to savor.