Heir apparent Carlos Alcaraz claimed his first victory over clay-court king Rafael Nadal to set up a semi-final against Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Open.
A day after his 19th birthday, Alcaraz, who has already broken into the top 10, defied an ankle injury suffered in a second-set fall to defeat his 35-year-old opponent 6-2 1-6 6-3.
It seemed the teenager might not be able to finish the match when he went over on his right ankle in the third game of the second set having played a brilliant opener.
The first teenager EVER to beat Nadal on clay 👏
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Nadal reeled off five straight games, but Alcaraz began to move more freely again at the start of the decider and held on to an early break of serve to beat his idol.
He became the first teenager ever to defeat Nadal on clay, and said afterwards: “I’m very excited, a lot of excitement. Very few players can say that they have defeated Rafa on clay. I feel fortunate to be one of them.”
Alcaraz had lost his two previous meetings with Nadal but, while this will inevitably be hailed as a changing-of-the-guard moment, there were mitigating factors for the 21-time grand slam champion, not least his gruelling clash on Thursday against David Goffin.
The Royal seal of approval 👑
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This was also Nadal’s first event since sustaining a stress fracture of a rib six weeks ago, while Madrid is his least successful of the big clay-court events.
The Spaniard said: “Of course it’s a handover. If it’s today or not, we will see the next months. I’m happy in that regard. He has been better than me in several aspects of the match and several aspects of the game, and I need to improve.”
Nadal will head to Rome to prepare for the Italian Open as he builds up to the French Open, while Alcaraz moves on to an intriguing first career meeting with Djokovic.
Nadal added: “My only dream is to be in Paris healthy enough and physically good enough to compete at the highest level possible. If that happens, I know it’s a tournament that I have been playing well a lot of times in my career. Why not I can be competitive again and give me one more chance.”
Djokovic has looked much more like his normal self this week and he produced a fine display to defeat Pole Hubert Hurkacz 6-3 6-4.
“I was serving really well in the second set, I think that kept me alive,” said the world number one. “I was pleased with the way I was constructing points. I tried to make him run and miss and overall it was a solid performance.
“It’s definitely a positive indication that I am on the right track in terms of getting to the desired level of tennis, being in one of the best tournaments in the world where all the best players are playing. Of course it does give me confidence, and it encourages me to keep going.”
The other semi-final is also a heavyweight clash, pitting second seed Alexander Zverev against fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. Tsitsipas battled to a 6-3 2-6 6-4 victory over Andrey Rublev before defending champion Zverev saw off Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3 7-5.
Djokovic received a third-round walkover after Andy Murray went down with food poisoning and the Scot has decided not to take his place in qualifying for the Italian Open.
He will decide early next week whether to play in the French Open, which he had previously said he would skip, or turn his attention to the grass-court season.
Meanwhile, world number two Daniil Medvedev, who has not played since the Miami Open in March after undergoing hernia surgery, will make his return at the Geneva Open beginning on May 14 and looks set to be fit for Roland Garros.