Alcaraz Resilient Under Pressure, Madrid Three-Peat Still Alive

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Mateo Villalba/MMO)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, April 30, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

As Carlos Alcaraz chases after a third straight Mutua Madrid Open title in the Spanish capital city, he will long remember his fourth-round match — a rematch against last year’s finalist, Jan-Lennard Struff — because it showed how the World No. 2 was able to win by being resilient under pressure.

On Tuesday afternoon, in front of a capacity crowd that filled Manolo Santana Stadium, all eyes were on the 20-year-old two-time defending champion Alcaraz. The Murcia native jumped ahead a set and break against the 34-year-old Struff. However, the No. 23 seed from Germany stayed in the mix and had his chances to pull off the upset of the tournament.

Facing three match points on Alcaraz’s serve, down 5-3 (40-love), Struff saved them all plus another one for good measure. He broke Alcaraz on his third attempt and, soon, took the match to a decisive tie-break. Only then did Alcaraz finally close the door on Struff, on his fifth match-point try, and won 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), in two hours and 52 minutes to advance to the last eight.

“Honestly this match reminds me of last year’s match,” Alcaraz said during his on-court interview. “It was pretty difficult from the first point until the last one. It was a great fight and it was difficult. It was difficult for me to deal with my emotions, to handle certain moments, difficult moments in the match. Serving for the match, it was really difficult for me after that 40-0 up, but really happy that at the end it didn’t affect me with my game, with my mentality. I kept fighting. That’s all that matters and I’m really happy to get the win at the end.”

After not dropping a set through his first two wins, Alcaraz remains alive in his quest to be the first to win three straight titles in Madrid. He’s now won 14 straight in the Masters 1000 event on red clay and is 24-0 on Spanish clay since the tart of the 2022 season. The victory over Struff was his 18th of this season and advanced him to face No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Rublev garnered his third consecutive straight-set win in Madrid with his 64-minute 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 24 seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands. The World No. 8 Rublev came into Madrid riding a four-match losing streak but has turned things around with his impressive play on the Spanish clay this week.

Against Griekspoor, Rublev dropped only one point on his first serve, converted three of seven break points and outpointed the Dutchman 60-40.

Medvedev unlocks new level with win over Bublik

When World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev completed his 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over Alexander Bublik on Manolo Santana Stadium, it meant he had completed a full set of reaching at least the quarterfinal round in each of the nine ATP Masters 1000 events. It’s a journey that took him five years to achieve, after making his first last-eight appearance at the Masters 1000 level in Monte-Carlo in 2019. Now, Medvedev is through to his 20th Masters 1000 quarterfinal overall and third this season.

On Tuesday, Medvedev rallied from a break down in the first set to win in an hour and 44 minutes.

While the No. 17 seed Bublik made Medvedev run, thanks to his effective use of his drop shot, he was unable take advantage after breaking the Russian’s serve in the fifth game of the match. Instead, Medvedev broke back in the next game and dominated play in the first-set tiebreaker. Then, he gained a double-break lead of 5-1 in the second set and maintained the upper hand.

Medvedev hit only 16 winners but he also made just eight unforced errors. Bublik was undone by 37 unforced errors and Medvedev converted three of four break-point opportunities. He outpointed Bublik 78-68 in raising his career head-to-head record against the Russian-born Kazakh to 5-0.

“It was a tough match,” Medvedev said in his on-court interview. “A lot of drop shots, and I got so tired in the end running for them. That’s when you lose your concentration and you start to play a bit worse. That’s what happened, but after the match he told me he was dead also. So good for me, at least I was not the only one.

“Generally, I felt like it was a good level. Some good points, some good serving and some bad serving. So it was a bit up and down, but I’m happy that I was able to stay more consistent and win it in the end.”

Next, Medvedev will face No. 30 seed Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic, who eliminated five-time Madrid champion Rafael Nadal of Spain, 7-5, 6-4, in two hours and one minute, ending at 12:03 a.m.

Lehecka, who broke Nadal to go ahead 6-5 and won the last 10 points of the opening set, gained an immediate break in the first game of the second and never trailed from there. He outpointed Nadal 76-61.

“It’s amazing to share a court with such a legendary player. It’s a dream come true; I always wished for this to happen,” Lehecka said In an on-court interview after Nadal was feted in a farewell ceremony.  “I’m very grateful to achieve such a big moment and all the best to Rafa. It’s kind of bittersweet to have such a nice win in front of all these people who were cheering for him. The energy was amazing.”

Top seed Sinner holds off Khachanov, Auger-Aliassime next

No. 1 seed Jannik Sinner reached his first Madrid quarterfinal but needed to go the distance to do it. The World No. 2 from Italy defeated No. 16 Karen Khachanov of Russia, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, in two hours and 10 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium. After losing his first set in the tournament, Sinner recovered nicely and saved both break points he faced in the deciding set.

“I think today was really tough, because at some points he served really well, so it was tough to return,” Sinner said during his on-court interview. “I made a couple of mistakes in the first set when he broke me, but this can happen. In the second set I tried to stay focused immediately, I broke him, and the confidence level raised a bit. 

“I was struggling when I was break points down in the early stages of the third set. I went through them, serving really well. Then after I felt a little bit better so I’m really happy and let’s see what’s coming in the next round.” 

The victory improved Sinner’s 2024 win-loss record to 28-2. Next, he will face No. 35 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who upset fifth seed Casper Ruud of Norway, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 59 minutes behind 33 winners.

Around the Caja Magica

Tuesday’s Mutua Madrid Open results

Wednesday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play 

By the numbers

By reaching the Mutua Madrid Open quarterfinals, Daniil Medvedev became the 10th active player to reach the quarterfinals or better at all nine ATP Masters 1000 events.

“Quotable …”

“I have to say thanks to the people here for supporting me until the last point. I think it was great support after those difficult moments that I had at the end of the third set. I think they pushed me just to not give up and keep fighting. I’m going to say that this win is thanks to them as well and it’s incredible to have this crowd behind me.”

— Two-time defending champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, thanking the crowd after his defeat of Jan-Lennard Struff, during his on-court interview Tuesday.