Carlos Alcaraz has been billed as the future of men’s tennis.
But the future may already be here.
One day after knocking off 21-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals in Madrid, the 19-year-old Spaniard took out world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5), in 3 hours, 36 minutes in the semifinals. Alcaraz, who turned 19 Thursday, will try to win his second Masters 1000 title against Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s final after the German beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the other semifinal.
Alcaraz, ranked No. 9 in the world, became the first man to beat Nadal and Djokovic — who have combined to win 41 Grand Slam titles — in the same clay court event and the 12th on all surfaces, according to the ATP. He is the only teenager to beat Nadal on clay. It was his sixth straight win against a Top-10 opponent.
“Well, this make me a lot of confidence right now,” he said on Tennis Channel. “To play the final tomorrow, I know that I am playing a really good game. For the rest of the season, I’m thinking that I’m able to play against the best players in the world. I beat them as well, so it makes me a lot of confidence.”
David Nalbandian of Argentina defeated Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer at Madrid in 2007, when the event was played on hardcourts.
After beating Nadal for the first time Friday, Alcaraz joked, “I will text Nalbandian how he did it.”
“I think he's going to win one of the next four majors, I think he's going to be the first teen to win one since Nadal did,” former world No. 1 Jim Courier said on Tennis Channel. “We'll see, we'll see."
Alcaraz showed no apparent issues from his ankle injury suffered in the win over Nadal.
He smacked 51 winners against 57 unforced errors and won 13-of-17 net points. Djokovic had 24 winners and 31 unforced errors and was just 11-of-25 at net. He was often drawn into net in a defensive position because of Alcaraz’s propensity to use the drop shot.
He put on a tennis clinic with concussive baseline power and acute angles mixed with tremendous touch on the drop shot. After falling in the first set tiebreak, he seized control in the second set and continued to show a willingness to use the drop shot off both wings. He won the second set by chasing down a Djokovic drop shot and deftly hitting a forehand winner into the open court.
In the third set, Alcaraz again used the forehand drop shot to hold for a 3-2 lead.
He crushed a forehand winner up the line to hold serve at 4-3 and then pumped his fist to the crowd.
With Djokovic serving at 4-5, 30-all, Alcaraz ended a long rally by ripping another forehand winner into the open court to bring him to match point. Djokovic responded with an ace to the backhand corner. Djokovic later held for 5-all and clenched his fist.
Alcaraz then used a series of kick serves to fluster Djokovic and held at love for a 6-5 lead.
In the tiebreak, Alcaraz earned an early mini-break and then ripped a two-handed backhand up the line for a 3-1 lead.
Serving at 5-3, Alcaraz couldn’t handle a deep Djokovic return and the Serb closed to within 4-5. Djokovic then sprayed a forehand long, bringing the Spaniard to match point. Djokovic saved it with a service winner.
On the second match point, Alcaraz served at 6-5 and hit a forehand winner into the open court before smacking a ball into the stands and embracing Djokovic at the net.
“I think both of us played an unbelievable match and honestly I don’t know what was the difference,” Alcaraz said.
It was the first match between the two players, although they did practice earlier in this tournament.
“I’m sure Djokovic was intentional about that, wanted to get some hits against this rising star,” Courier said on air.
Comparisons between the two have already begun.
Alcaraz is now 10-6 against Top 10 opponents, while at the same age — 19 years and 2 days — Djokovic was 1-5.
“I've seen Federer, Nadal and Djokovic when they were young but in the last 30 years,” said Rick Macci, who coached Andy Roddick Venus and Serena Williams, “I haven't seen anyone like Carlos Alcaraz.”
Asked if there was a limit to what he can achieve, Alcaraz said, “I don’t think so. I just trying to make results, to put a good game in every tournament, to still be there with the best in the world. I mean, tomorrow I will go for the final as I did in Miami and really happy to play a second Masters 1000 final.”