Carlos Alcaraz overcame an injury scare on his way to a milestone victory over Rafael Nadal on Friday to set up a blockbuster semi-final against Novak Djokovic in Madrid.
Alcaraz entered the contest with a 0-2 record against Nadal, but the 35-year-old arrived in Madrid with little to no preparation on clay after six weeks nursing a rib injury.
In an eventful quarter-final at the Caja Magica, the 19-year-old Alcaraz beat 21-time Grand Slam champion Nadal 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 for his 26th victory of the season.
“It means a lot to me, all the hard work that I put in every day paid off today to beat Rafa, beat the best player in history on clay, it means a lot to me,” said Alcaraz, who is the first teenager to beat Nadal on a clay court.
“It affected me a lot the fall in the second set but when I lost the second, I went to the bathroom and I believed I was able to get back, I was able to do my best, try everything on court, fight until the last ball and I think it was the key.”
The first three games went against serve and lasted over 20 minutes before Alcaraz finally held for a 3-1 advantage. Nadal mustered just one more game in that set.
In the third game of the second set, Alcaraz took a tumble trying to retrieve a ball and had a medical timeout at 1-2 to get his ankle taped. Replays showed Alcaraz had badly rolled his ankle.
Nadal broke upon resumption before play was interrupted again for attention to someone in the crowd.
After a long pause, Nadal held and ran away with the set with Alcaraz visibly restricted in his movement.
Alcaraz moved better at the start of the decider after his toilet break, leaping to a 3-1 lead. He completed the win in two hours and 28 minutes and set up a clash with Djokovic.
“I will text (David) Nalbandian to see how he did it. I will fight and let’s see what happens tomorrow,” joked Alcaraz, referring to Miomir Kecmanovic’s coach David Nalbandian, who beat Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer on his way to the Madrid title in 2007.
Djokovic reached his seventh Madrid semi-final, easing past Pole Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-4 to record a 30th career victory in the Spanish capital.
The world number one will face Alcaraz for the first time and heaped praise on the young Spaniard, having spent some time with him practising earlier this week.
“I love to watch him play, as a lot of other players on the tour. He’s fantastic for our sport, no doubt. I think it’s great that we have a young player who is doing so well and giving a new fresh breath to the tennis world,” said Djokovic.
“Seeing that and knowing that he’s a very nice guy, very humble with good values, is a perfect combination.”
Hurkacz saved two match points on his own serve at 5-3 in the second set, forcing Djokovic to serve out for an 81-minute success.
Djokovic has not competed much in 2022 as his vaccination status that has prevented him from playing in Australia or entering the United States.
His win on Friday was just his seventh of the year. He’ll be trying to make a second final of the season, having placed runner-up in Belgrade last month.
Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas squeezed past familiar foe Andrey Rublev 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to record a tour-leading 27th match-win of the season.
The 2019 Madrid runner-up edged ahead 5-4 in his head-to-head against Rublev and now awaits defending champion Alexander Zverev or Canadian eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semi-finals.