Carlos Alcaraz burst onto the world tennis scene less than a year ago, and now he's taking down giants. On Saturday at the Madrid Open, he became the first player to ever beat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the same clay-court event. He's 12th player (and the youngest ever) to beat them at the same event overall, and just the fifth player to beat them in back-to-back matches (the first since Roger Federer in 2010).
The Spanish teenager, who turned 19 on Thursday, defeated world No. 1 Djokovic 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) at the Madrid Open semifinal, marking his first-ever win over Djokovic. The three-set match was epic, running three and a half hours and featuring two tiebreakers — one in the first set, which Alcaraz lost, and one in the third set, which Alcaraz won to take the match.
The score really tells the story of this match. It was close throughout, with the two going toe-to-toe on every point and every game. Djokovic, who is continuing to try and regain his championship form, had numerous chances to take control, but Alcaraz managed to take it back every time while continuing to nurse a twisted ankle he sustained on Friday. Their match stats were nearly identical, but Alcaraz was able to give his game a little more oomph. You never would have been able to tell that he played three sets on Friday against his fellow Spaniard, the legendary Rafael Nadal.
A passing of the torch
Alcaraz's victory over Nadal was epic, but in a different way than Saturday's match. Alcaraz is the future of Spanish tennis (and tennis overall), and while Nadal certainly isn't the past, he's 35 and has been having issues staying healthy. As Alcaraz edged closer to his 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 win, it felt like a changing of the guard. When his win was in hand, he became the first teenager to ever beat Nadal on clay.
And Alcaraz has continued to accomplish things that were first done by Nadal nearly 20 years ago. In 2021, when he was 17, he became the youngest player to win a match at the Madrid Open, beating Nadal's record from 2004 when he was 18. Ranked No. 9 currently, he's the youngest player to enter the top 10 since Nadal in 2005. And he's the youngest player to defeat an ATP No. 1 player since Nadal beat Federer in 2005.
According to Alcaraz, Nadal is "the best player in history on clay," and the win meant a lot to him.
The French Open is just a week away, so you could say that Alcaraz is peaking at the right time, but you'd be wrong. He's barely 19 and and just beat two legendary players on back-to-back days while recovering from an ankle twist. What we're seeing now is just the beginning. His ceiling is so high and no one knows how far it goes.