Carlos Alcaraz engineered a stunning second-set turnaround to overcome an impressive display from Karen Khachanov and keep his title defence on track Wednesday at the Mutua Madrid Open.
The top seed trailed 2-5 in the second set of the pair’s quarter-final clash on Manolo Santana Stadium but rallied to a 6-4, 7-5 triumph to reach his third ATP Masters 1000 semi-final of the season. Frequently deploying drop shots to try and disrupt Khachanov’s heavy baseline hitting, Alcaraz hit 31 winners to prevail in what will be his final competitive match as a teenager.
“It was pretty tough. The first set as well, it was close,” said Alcaraz, who turns 20 on Friday. “I was in trouble in the second set, a break down and [he had] two break points to have the second break. So it was really tough for me to come back and he had his chances to win the second set.
“Luckily I knew I was going to have my chances. I just tried to take my opportunities and I’m really happy to get through.”
Khachanov had stuck with Alcaraz early in his bid for a first win in three attempts against the Spaniard. The top seed raised his level in the seventh game to break his opponent, however, and Alcaraz’s high-class retrieving along the baseline was a dominant feature of the first set. He dropped just two points behind his first serve en route to claiming the opener to the delight of the home crowd.
Any thoughts that Khachanov may fade after falling behind were quickly dispelled as the 10th seed was rewarded for his ferocious groundstrokes in the second set. He raced to a 4-1 lead but was made to pay for letting slip two break points for 5-1. Alcaraz erased the uncharacteristic errors from earlier in the set and reeled off five games in a row from 2-5 to claim a one-hour, 51-minute win.
“I talk with myself a lot during the match, telling myself that I have to be passive and not to be in a rush in the point,” said Alcaraz, when asked about the variety in his game. “Of course, a lot of things come to my mind, drop shots and a lot of [other] things, and sometimes it is tough to choose one.”
The nine-time tour-level titlist Alcaraz has now reached at least the semi-finals in all five tournaments where he has played as defending champion. He successfully completed a title defence for the first time in Barcelona 11 days ago, and his 27-2 record for the 2023 season will be a source of confidence as he seeks a repeat showing in Madrid.
Alcaraz is two wins away from claiming his fourth straight ATP Tour title on home soil. He will play Borna Coric or Daniel Altmaier in the semi-finals in Madrid, where successfully defending his title would also set the 19-year-old on course to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. If he lifts the trophy on Sunday in the Spanish capital, he will usurp Novak Djokovic from top spot simply by playing a match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia later this month.