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Did you think Carlos Alcaraz would have a letdown after beating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic? Not a chance
He only soared higher in his one-sided win over Alexander Zverev in the Madrid final.
Published May 08, 2022
There was one point in the Mutua Madrid Open final on Sunday that summed up, for me, what Carlos Alcaraz is doing to the ATP’s elite right now.
It came with Alcaraz’s opponent, Alexander Zverev, serving at 1-1 in the second set. Zverev had lost the first 6-3, but there was still some reason to believe he could muster a response and make it a match. Zverev, after all, is No. 3 in the world, a two-time champion in Madrid, and he was coming off a satisfying win over one of his rivals, Stefanos Tsitsipas, the previous night.
At 0-15, Zverev launched a crosscourt forehand into the far corner that would have been an outright winner against most opponents. It was also the kind of shot that might have signaled the start of a turnaround in his fortunes. Instead, Alcaraz glided smoothly across the baseline and into the doubles alley, where, with time to spare, he calmly blocked the ball back with his forehand. With his next shot, he put a dipping backhand pass at Zverev’s feet. Then he finished it with a winning forehand pass down the line.
Rather than starting a comeback, the point only showed how outclassed Zverev was on this day. His best efforts just inspired something better from Alcaraz. Zverev wouldn’t win another game.
“He’s playing amazing,” Zverev said after Alcaraz’s 6-3, 6-1 victory. “There’s absolutely no doubt about it. He’s playing amazing."
Zverev played a series of late-night matches this week, and he said he was “a little bit angry” about having to go to bed at 4:00 or 5:00 AM the last few days. “I had no coordination today,” he claimed. But he also said of Alcaraz, “For me [he’s] the best player in the world right now.”
Anyone other than Alcaraz might have been primed for a letdown in this final. He was coming off back-to-back victories over Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Both matches went three sets; in the first one, he turned his ankle, and the second one lasted three hours and 35 minutes. He said this morning that it was “difficult for me to walk.”
But rather than fall to earth, Alcaraz soared even higher on Sunday. After the point I just mentioned, he left Zverev behind completely and went from beating him to “outclassing” him, as Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier put it.
Alcaraz broke at 1-1 with a deep forehand return and a perfectly measured drop shot. He began his next service game by belting a forehand winner. He broke again at 1-3 with a drop shot/topspin lob combination. At 4-1, he won a point with a short-angle kick serve that brought a smile and a nod of appreciation from his normally poker-faced coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero. Zverev not only had no answers for these shots; he couldn’t even get close to the ball on any of them. Alcaraz had all the time in the world to do what he wanted; Zverev had none.
“It’s spectacular right now,” Alcaraz said, and that seems about as apt and complete a description as you’ll find for the way he’s playing.
Listening to his straightforward, level-headed words after the final, Alcaraz sounded a little like his countryman and predecessor, Nadal.
“I consider myself a player that’s playing well,” Alcaraz said. “The numbers speak by themselves. I think I am doing quite well on clay right now.”
“I don’t consider myself the best player in the world. I think that tomorrow I’m going to be sixth, so I still have five players in front of me to be the best one."
That said, he’s not blind to what’s happening when he steps out on the court these days.
“I think that I am a tough opponent for the other players,” he said, as one of his trademark wide smiles crossed his face.
Alcaraz is growing up, and getting better, with each day. That extends to his scheduling: He has made the wise decision to rest his ankle and pull out of Rome.
The other members of the ATP elite should rejoice—and take their opportunity to win a big tournament while he’s away.