No Three-Peat In Madrid, Alcaraz Loses to Rublev

Carlos Alcaraz and Andrey Rublev (photo: Mateo Villalba/MMO)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 1, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Two-time defending Mutua Madrid Open champion Carlos Alcaraz, a quarterfinalist for the third consecutive year, looked to extend his 14-match winning streak at the ATP Masters 1000 event on Wednesday afternoon.

The 20-year-old Spaniard from Murcia arrived on Manolo Santana Stadium 24-0 on Spanish clay since the start of 2022 season with an eye for more.

However, when Alcaraz took on World No. 8 Andrey Rublev in their second career meeting – after Alcaraz won their previous encounter at the 2023 Nitto ATP Finals – the seventh-seeded Russian had other plans.

While there was plenty at stake for the World No. 3 Alcaraz, who hoped to become the first player to reach three consecutive Madrid semifinals since Austria’s Dominic Thiem reached four in 2017-19 and 2021 (the Madrid Open was not held in 2020), it wasn’t meant to be.

That’s because Rublev, 26, secured his first win over a Top-Three opponent since 2022 and reached the semifinals in seven of the nine Masters 1000 events with his 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 take down of Alcaraz Wednesday evening with the roof closed.

After entering Madrid on a four-match losing streak, Rublev achieved his fourth consecutive win – and did it impressively over the course of the one-hour, 59-minute match. He won 80 percent of his first-serve points, struck 30 winners (including five aces) to 21 unforced errors and converted three of 13 break-point chances, including two in the final set, which came in the opening and fifth games. He frequently stepped inside the baseline to power his returns and outpointed Alcaraz 91-76. By contrast, Alcaraz hit 19 winners (including just one ace) and committed 25 unforced errors.

It all added up to Rublev’s 25th Top-10 victory and it advanced him to Friday’s semifinals against No. 12 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, who started and finished strong against No. 21 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina and won 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, Wednesday evening.

“I think the serve saved me a lot of times today,” Rublev said during his on-court interview. “I think the key was I was completely calm the whole match. I did not say one word, even if I was losing. That was the key and I was able to serve even better near the end. In the beginning, I was not serving that well but little by little, after set one, I served better and better and finished really well.”

By the end, Rublev was the one playing more at ease than Alcaraz, who was less than at his best following his lengthy, two-hour, 50-minute win in the fourth round against Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany on Tuesday. The loss was Alcaraz’s first on Spanish soil since 2021 in Madrid and dropped his win-loss record this season to 18-5, while Rublev has strung together wins over Facundo Bagnis of Argentina, No. 27 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, No. 24 seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands and Alcaraz in this Masters 1000 event – losing just one set – to improve to 19-8 this season with one title won.

“When you start to think of how good everything is, then for six weeks I was not winning at all. So, it is better to not think at all,” Rublev said. “That it is just a moment and it happens to everyone. Everyone has been through these moments and the most important thing is to keep working and keep improving.”

Around the Caja Magica

No. 2 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, the highest needs remaining in the doubles draw, rallied from a set down to beat No. 9 seeds Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen of Belgium, 6-7 (3), 7-5, 12-10, Wednesday evening for a berth in the quarterfinals. They will face No. 7 seeds Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zielinski of Poland, who defeated No. 14 seeds Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Meanwhile, No. 3 seeds Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski of Great Britain were upset in the second round by Ariel Behar of Uruguay and Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 3-6, 12-10. Also, No. 6 seeds Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz of Germany were defeated by No. 15 seeds Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow of the United States, 7-5, 6-4.

Top seed Sinner withdraws with hip injury

World No. 2 Jannik Sinner withdrew from the tournament on Wednesday citing a right hip injury. The top-seeded Italian was to have faced No. 35 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in a quarterfinal match on Thursday.

Instead, Auger-Aliassime will receive a walk-over into the semifinal round and will face either No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia or No. 30 seed Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic. It will be Auger-Aliassime’s first Masters 1000 semifinal since 2022 at Paris.

“Very sad to have to withdraw from my next match here in Madrid,” Sinner opined on social media. “My hip has been bothering me this week and has slowly been getting more painful. Taking the advice from the doctors we decided it’s best to not play further and make it worse.”

Nadal: “I’m not retiring yet. …”

Following his early morning press conference Wednesday, after losing 7-5, 6-4 to Jiri Lehecka, Rafael Nadal told Tennis TV in an interview that there was a reason he didn’t look toward his family and friends and coaches.

“I tried not to look at them, honestly, because I didn’t want to cry,” Nadal said. “Even if it’s an emotional day, it’s not my last match. I’m not retiring yet. Just saying goodbye to a very special place for me and things need to keep going.

“I don’t know when’s going to be my last match but I don’t want to become too emotional because I want to try to keep going for a while and just trying to keep focused on my path. Today, it’s a night that’s going to stay in my heart for ever but at the same time I try to be strong enough to keep going because it’s not yet enough.”

Wednesday’s Mutua Madrid Open results

Thursday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play

By the numbers

With his 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Francisco Cerundolo Wednesday night, World No. 13 Taylor Fritz has become the first American man to reach the semifinals in Madrid since the tournament switched to clay courts in 2009. It was the his 250th tour-level win of his career and the fourth straight season he has reached the semifinal of a Masters 1000 event.

“Quotable …”

“Sport generates excitement and emotion. I have experienced it as a fan. From what I can see, I hope that I’ve created excitement and emotion for all of you. The only thing I can say is ‘thank you’. That’s all I can say. That’s how I feel. It was one of those days that are difficult when they arrive. I think that life and my body have been sending me messages for some time that this day had to come.”

— Five-time Madrid champion Rafael Nadal, from his on-court ceremony early Wednesday, after losing his fourth-round match to Jiri Lehecka in what was likely his final match at the Mutua Madrid Open.