In a clash of generations, Spanish teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz overcame an injury to defeat his idol Rafael Nadal 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 in the Madrid Open quarter-finals on Friday.
The 19-year-old Alcaraz recovered from a bad ankle twist early in the second set to earn his first victory against the 21-time Grand Slam champion, marking what could be the beginning of a change of guard in Spanish tennis.
The youngster considered by many in Spain as Nadal’s successor will play his first Madrid final against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who eased past Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-4.
It was Nadal’s first loss to a Spaniard in six years, since to Fernando Verdasco at the 2016 Australian Open. He had a 138-21 record against his countrymen entering the match against Alcaraz.
Still far from his best form after a six-week injury layoff, Nadal predicted a hard time keeping up with the energy of Alcaraz. And he was right early on, as the youngster overpowered him to easily win the first set with three breaks.
But Alcaraz lost momentum after needing medical attention for his ankle, losing 20 of the next 22 points as Nadal cruised through the second set.
The match also was interrupted in the second set after a fan became ill in the stands of the Caja Magica centre court.
Both players got off to a great start this season as they seek their fourth title of the year, which would be the most on tour.
Nadal’s run was hampered by a rib stress fracture he sustained in his semi-final win against Alcaraz in Indian Wells. His other win against the ninth-ranked Spaniard came in Madrid last year, when the youngster was just starting to attract everyone’s attention.
The 35-year-old Nadal saved four match points to get past David Goffin in a third-round match that lasted more than three hours on Thursday.
Three-time Madrid champion Djokovic had little trouble against Hurkacz. The Serb took advantage of Hurkacz’s slow start and took a 3-0 lead after the Polish player ceded his first service game by hitting long.
Another spate of unforced errors cost Hurkacz a second-set break when he smacked a forehand long. Djokovic’s dominance was never ended and he won on his fourth match point.
Djokovic beat Gael Monfils in straight sets to start his campaign at the outdoor clay tournament, and a walkover after Andy Murray withdrew because of a stomach illness before their match on Thursday.