On 5th May, midway through the Mutua Madrid Open, Carlos Alcaraz celebrated his 19th birthday. That day he beat Rafa Nadal in a terrific match across three sets. He rebounded to then beat Novak Djokovic in the semis, again in three sets and three days after turning 19, he won the biggest clay court title of his very young career.
Alcaraz took just 62 minutes to overcome Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-1 and his week in the Spanish capital will see him rise to a new career high ranking of six.
There is no doubt the German was feeling the effects of matches that had been finishing very late. After his semifinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas, he got to be at 520am due to the match’s extremely late finish, but while it frustrated him, Zverev said nothing should be taken away from the teenager who is the “best player in the world right now”.
Just don’t expect Alcaraz to agree.
“I'm not going to change my answer. Djokovic is No. 1 in the ranking. You know, because I have won Barcelona, and I have beaten Djokovic and Rafa yesterday in Madrid, I don't consider myself the best player in the world. I'm going to be 6th, so I still have five players in front of me to be the best one.
“I consider myself a player that's playing very well. You know, as the numbers speak by themselves, I think that I'm doing it quite well on clay right now. As I said in Monte-Carlo, you learn a lot from defeats. I think this is a clear example. I lost in the first round of Monte-Carlo, and I learned from that defeat, and I started to train for Barcelona and Madrid. I consider that I am playing very, very well, and I think that I am a tough opponent for the other players.”
Alcaraz had issues with his feet. When he played Nadal, he injured his foot, and it was swollen, and he was also playing with an infected blister on his foot. At the start of the day, he was finding it difficult to walk but the doctor and physio managed to tape and pad it enough so that he could play comfortably.
In the final Alcaraz never faced a break point and he broke the German’s serve four times from the eight break points he had. Zverev was not quite on the money with his tennis and the lethargy was showing as he felt the effects of the very late nights.
He had 25 errors to just seven winners compared to twelve winners and eleven errors from the Spaniard. And when he really needed her serve, like when he was serving to stay in the final, he produced back-to-back double faults on the last two points of the match.
“I had no coordination today. I had no coordination on my serve, I had no coordination on my groundstrokes. I missed two overheads that were super easy because I (didn’t) see the ball, and everything is moving in my eyes,” Zverev said. “I don't want to take anything away, and today obviously, even if I'm fresh, probably I would not beat Carlos, but definitely would be a better match.
“He's a great player. He's the best in the world right now. But to be honest, I feel sad for the final that we played, because this could have been a very good match. This could have been a great match. But I had absolutely no chance today of being myself. I had absolutely no chance of playing my level.
“Tennis is a very fast sport. If somebody is serving at you with 220 kilometres an hour, you need to be there. You need to be completely, timing for the ball perfectly. My first step was not so quick. In the end of the day, if you are playing the best players in the world, you have to be at your top. Otherwise, you will have no chance. Today I had no chance.”
The doubles title went to Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski, they defeated Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 76-7, 6-4, 10-5in a match that went over two hours.