Madrid Masters 2022: Super Alcaraz adds Zverev to his Djokovic and Nadal wins to seal second Masters
It took 19-year-old home favourite just 62 minutes to win his fourth title of season
The men’s draw could hardly have unfolded better for Spain’s home fans in the nation’s biggest tennis tournament.
Perhaps if their long-standing hero Rafael Nadal had been drawn in the bottom half, it could have achieved a still greater crescendo to Sunday’s final. But the match between former champion Nadal and the pretender to the crown, teenager Carlos Alcaraz, took place in the quarter-finals, before that same young Spaniard, celebrating his 19th birthday along the way, beat world No1 Novak Djokovic in the semis.
But then perhaps the appropriate final pitted the fastest-rising star on the tour against someone he is likely to be playing well into his peak years: No2 seed and two-time champion Alexander Zverev.
The German, a five-time Masters champion from what was now 10 Masters finals, was also twice the ATP Finals champion, and last year counted Olympic gold among six titles. However, the 2022 season had yet to propel him from that platform to a Major or Masters title: Indeed he had reached just one ATP250 final—until now.
Conversely, Alcaraz had accelerated from a breakthrough 2021 season, ranked 120 exactly a year ago, to his present world No9. After winning his first title in Umag last July, he reached his first Major quarter-final in New York, cruised to the NextGen Finals title, and this year won Rio, Barcelona, the Miami Masters, and reached the semis in Indian Wells.
So he entered the Madrid final with a tour-leading 27-3 win-loss record—and arguably with favourite status at his home Masters.
Certainly favourite with the Spanish fans who packed out the Caja Magica, though surely Zverev, as a two-time former champion in Madrid, would have other ideas. He had beaten Alcaraz in both their previous meetings, both on hard courts.
However, his win over Monte-Carlo Masters champion, Stefanos Tsitsipas, in the semis did not finish until the early hours of the morning. Could he bounce back sufficiently to stem the energy of the teenager less than 18 hours later?
Alcaraz opened the serving, and soon broke out his signature drop shot. He was quickly into the swing of things, and Zverev needed to get his biggest weapon, his first serve, into a groove. He had to save a first break point in the fourth game, but stemmed the threat, 2-2.
However, Alcaraz was already into his serving groove, two love holds, and looked calm, focused, sure of his tactics—taking every advantage of Zverev’s deep receiving position. But it was the teenager’s movement and light footwork that helped him apply the attacking game plan, and he made two forehand winners on his way to a love break, 4-2.
With a run of 12 from 13 points, he held for 5-2, making Zverev look slow and out of ideas already. Alcaraz, in contrast, seemed to carry the weight of the moment and the Madrid expectations with ease.
Four timely big serves halted the momentum, but Alcaraz matched it with another love hold, 6-3, with barely half an hour played.
Zverev kicked off the second set with more conviction, a strong hold, but he began to look frustrated as forehands went astray in the third game, and Alcaraz got the break to love. The Manola Santana court exploded in a sea of red and gold, with fans chanting their young star’s name.
As if things were not tough enough, Zverev began to double fault, missed smashes at the net, faced another break point, and Alcaraz dismantled him with a drop-shot-lob winner, 4-1.
Playing in faster, warmer conditions compared with that early-hours finish for Zverev, he was perhaps now feeling his energy sapping. Alcaraz was hitting all corners of the court, often with vicious angles, and now and then throwing in the killer drop-shot. A love hold by the teenager, and Zverev was serving at 5-1, struggling even to keep the ball in court.
So with exactly one hour on the clock, Alcaraz had three break—and match—points. This time, Zverev saved them all, but at the fourth opportunity, Alcaraz sealed the deal, 6-1, in just 62 minutes.
This remarkable young player will now jump to a new high of No6 in the world, and No2 in the Race to Turin—behind only Nadal. And with this victory, his second Masters, he has become the first player since David Nalbandian in 2007 to beat three top-four players in one tournament. This was, in fact, the Spaniard’s seventh straight top-10 win: Add the likes of Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz to the list.
Zverev apologized for not making more of a match of the final, yet insisted this was still his favourite court in the world. And turning to Alcaraz, he made a bold statement:
“Right now, you’re the best player in the world,” and he went on to assure the young champion that he was a future No1.
In reply, and in English before turning to his natural Spanish, Alcaraz returned the favour, telling Zverev he would reach No1 and win Grand Slams. Zverev looked non-plussed, but right now, Alcaraz is the name on everyone’s lips.
Will he take up his place in the Rome draw, which begins in a day or two? If he does, he will likely face Zverev by the quarters, and possibly this time Nadal in the final.
But watch this space. After all, it is only two weeks until the biggest clay prize, Roland Garros, and they will all have their hearts set on that one.