There’s no doubt who the favourite is going to be at the 2023 installment of Roland-Garros. Recently turned 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz continues his ferocious play on clay – well, on any surface truly – as he captured his second Madrid Open title by beating Jan-Lennard Struff by a score of 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
It would have been tough for Alcaraz to top his path to his maiden title in Madrid back in 2022. In that conquest, he defeated both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals and semifinals respectively before beating Alexander Zverev in the final to signal his enormous potential as a star on the ATP.
This time around, Alcaraz worked his way through a tricky opening match against Emil Ruusuvuori where he recovered after dropping the opening set. He then dispatched veteran and 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov, before beating Zverev in a much more comfortable fashion than a year ago 6-1, 6-2, followed by Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric and then surprise finalist Struff.
The Struff story is one of the more remarkable ones we’ve seen on the men’s tour in some time. After falling in qualifying to Aslan Karatsev 6-4, 6-2, the German found his way into the main draw by virtue of being a Lucky Loser.
For those unfamiliar with the term, it means that Struff benefited from a player withdrawing from the main draw and as the highest-ranked player who lost in qualifying, he automatically gained a second lease on life in the tournament.
Not only did Struff then work his way through the draw defeating such top-level players like Ben Shelton (who threw 21 aces at Struff), Dusan Lajovic and fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, but he would also have to face Karatsev again in the semifinals. This time Struff was victorious 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the second ATP Final of his career following his appearance in the championship match in Munich, also on clay, back in 2021.
Speaking about his incredible week of tennis in Madrid and how unlikely it was for him to take advantage of such rare circumstances, Struff shared the following:
“It’s just crazy. I never would have expected this one to be in the finals after Lucky Loser. It’s just if you have a second chance, yeah, I try to go for it…It’s just an incredible journey and story, here in Madrid, and very, very happy. Yeah, just that you shouldn’t give up and try again always.”
Alcaraz meanwhile inches closer to reclaiming the No. 1 ranking from Novak Djokovic in what many experts are expecting to be a back-and-forth affair throughout the season. The gap between them is ever so narrow, with Djokovic leading 6775 points to 6770 over his young challenger. Now if only we could see the two face one another, a feat tennis fans have so far been denied in 2023.
It’s been a while since someone came onto the scene in men’s tennis and made such an immediate impact on the sport as what we’ve witnessed from Alcaraz over the past couple of years. It bares striking resemblance of course to his Spanish predecessor, Rafael Nadal, who also was racking up wins and titles before his 20th birthday.
Nadal grabbed his first ATP title at the age of 18 on clay in 2004. It would be his only title that year, but he then followed it up in 2005 with a staggering 11 ATP titles including four 1000-level events and of course his first of fourteen titles at Roland-Garros. Nadal ended 2004 ranked 51st on the ATP, but would skyrocket to finish 2005 at No. 2, behind the one and only Roger Federer.
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Alcaraz for his part also took one title in his first year as a professional at the age of 18 and like Rafa, it was also on clay. He followed that up last year with five titles, two at the 1000 level and his first Slam at the US Open. This year so far he has amassed four titles and is the heavy favourite with Roland-Garros approaching. Alcaraz is the youngest player on the ATP since Nadal to successfully defend a Masters 1000 title.
REST OF THE FIELD
In other tournament news from Madrid, upsets were rampant throughout the draw beyond seeing Struff making his second ATP tour final. Outside of the ever-consistent Alcaraz, there were no top ten players who made it past the quarter-finals in Madrid.
It was a tournament that certainly must give some lesser-ranked players hope as we navigate our way through the clay court season. Daniel Altmaier (ranked 92nd), Zhizhen Zhang (99th), Aslan Karatsev (121st) and of course Struff, who was ranked 65th before his big two week’s in Madrid, all made the quarter-finals or better! Hats off to anyone who picked one of them to go deep in their Tennis Canada Bracket Challenge in Madrid.
Other more established players are still trying to find their form and consistency as the next major of the year is just around the corner in Paris. The struggles continue for example for third-seeded Casper Ruud, who fell in his opening match in Madrid and now finds himself 2-3 on the surface after winning a smaller-level ATP 250 tournament in Estoril back in early April.
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Madrid was missing of course both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal who are struggling with injury issues at the moment. It remains to be seen if Nadal will be able to return in time for Roland-Garros as the current World No. 14 has yet to play since the Australian Open back in January. Djokovic has been hampered more recently by some trouble with his elbow, but the feeling is that his absence in Madrid was more cautionary in nature.
Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov both fell early in the tournament in Madrid, causing Canadian tennis fans to hope that the pair are saving their best tennis for the late stages of the clay court season.
Auger-Aliassime fell to the recently-hot Dusan Lajovic in his opening match in the round of 32 by a score of 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5). Lajovic although unseeded, had recently won the clay court event in Bosnia-Herzegovina over the always dangerous Andrey Rublev.
Shapovalov, for his part, fell to Zhang Zhizhen 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(1) despite throwing 14 aces at his opponent in the match.
The pair did make the quarter-finals in the doubles draw together, beating the sixth-seeded tandem of Harri Heliovaara and Lloyd Glasspool before falling to the fourth seeds Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer 12-10 in a third-set tiebreak. It seems the Canadian duo has made a commitment to play more doubles together in 2023, as this is now the second time this year we’ve seen them partner up following their quarter-final result in Indian Wells earlier this Spring.
In doubles, the trophy was hoisted by the pairing of Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov who defeated Matthew Ebden and Rohan Bopanna 6-3, 3-6, 10-3 in the championship match. It was the fourth tournament in 2023 for the pair who are both also very accomplished singles players.