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Three to See, Madrid Quarterfinals: Will Rafael Nadal pass the baton to Carlos Alcaraz, or keep it for himself?
Plus: Novak Djokovic vs. Hubert Hurkacz, and Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Andrey Rublev.
Published May 05, 2022
WATCH: Alcaraz sets up his second meeting of the season with Nadal
Rafael Nadal vs. Carlos Alcaraz
Spanish tennis couldn’t have staged a baton-passing moment more perfect than this one. You have a nearly-36-year-old Nadal. You have a just-turned-19-year-old Alcaraz. And you have them facing off in Manuel Santana Stadium in Madrid’s Caja Magica.
So will Nadal actually pass the baton, or will he keep it for himself for another year?
These two played on this same court a year ago, and Rafa was the easy winner. They played two months ago, in an Indian Wells windstorm, and Rafa was the winner again, but this time it was much closer. Alcaraz is coming, and he’ll beat Nadal sooner or later. With Nadal coming back from an injury (that he suffered in his last match with Alcaraz), the time might be ripe on Friday.
But as she showed in his three-set win against Cam Norrie in the round of 16, Alcaraz still seems just a little too loose, a little too prone to ups and down and to giving back leads, to pull off the win and grab the baton—this time. Winner: Nadal
Novak Djokovic vs. Hubert Hurkacz
Walkovers are a double-edged sword. On the plus side, you get to advance to the next round without having to expend any energy. On the minus side, you don’t get as many reps, and your normal tournament rhythm is disrupted. Will either of those latter two issues have an effect on Djokovic, who received a walkover on Thursday when Andy Murray had to pull out due to food poisoning?
Normally, I’d say no; Djokovic has dealt with this too many times before to be affected by it now. But in this case, when he’s just finding his form and he needs as much match play as he can get, it might not help. It also won’t help that Hurkacz typically plays him well. Djokovic won their last match, in Bercy in November, in a third-set tiebreaker, and Hurkacz took a set from him at Wimbledon in 2019.
None of that is enough to make me think Djokovic will lose; but this should be competitive, and a valuable challenge for him. Winner: Djokovic
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Andrey Rublev
In my Madrid preview, I wondered where Tsitsipas and Rublev stood in the pecking order of French Open contenders. Just behind Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz seemed to be the best guess. Each has reasons to recommend them: Tsitsipas nearly won at Roland Garros last year, and he began this clay season by defending his title in Monte Carlo. Rublev, meanwhile, beat Djokovic for the title in Belgrade the week before this tournament.
The head-to-head between the Greek and the Russian is 4-4, but a slight edge on clay goes to Tsitsipas, who has won two of three previous meetings on the surface. His ability to defend against Rublev’s ground-stroke attack, and change the rhythm by coming forward, should see him well on Friday. Winner: Tsitsipas