Carlos Alcaraz, the defending champion, celebrated his 20th birthday by reaching the Madrid Open final on Friday, comparing himself to “a bull” in his straight sets victory against Borna Coric.
The world number two performed admirably to upset the Croatian 6-4, 6-3.
In Sunday’s final, he will play Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, the world number 65, who was knocked out in qualification before getting a reprieve.
Alcaraz claimed he used some of the inner determination that helped him win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open in New York last year.
“There was a moment when I repeated what I said at the US Open, that I’m a bull and that I can do it,” he stated.
In a close opening set, Alcaraz broke for a 3-2 lead and served it out to reach his fourth Masters 1000 final.
In the second set, he broke for 2-1, and when world number 20 Coric promptly hit back, he did so again for a 3-2 advantage, which he secured.
When Coric went long, Alcaraz secured the match with another break, ensuring he reached the final with only one set loss, to Emil Ruusuvuori.
The top seed was entitled to celebrate his triumph with a birthday cake provided by the event administrators.
The main setback for Alcaraz was the announcement that fellow Spaniard and 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal will miss next week’s Italian Open due to injury.
Nadal has not played since the Australian Open in January owing to a hip injury and is now a major question for the French Open, which takes place in three weeks and where the 36-year-old has won 14 times.
“I fully expect to see him at Roland Garros.” “The world wants to see him at his best,” Alcaraz remarked.
Struff, 33, advanced to his second career final by overcoming Russia’s Aslan Karatsev, who upset him in qualification the previous weekend.
Struff, who was given a spot in the main draw due to injury pull-outs, avenged that setback in Friday’s semi-final.
He fought back from a set down to defeat 121st-ranked Karatsev 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to become the first ‘lucky loser’ to reach a Masters final.
Struff, who had previously finished runner-up in the final in Munich in 2021, won on a fifth match point.
In his two-hour and 19-minute victory, he hit 37 winners, including 15 aces.
“It’s amazing,” Struff said. “I played in one final before in Munich, but there was no crowd because of Covid.”
Struff and Alcaraz have already clashed twice, with the German winning in straight sets at the French Open in 2021 and the flamboyant Spaniard prevailing in five sets at Wimbledon last year.
“We played an amazing match at Wimbledon, and I was very close to beating him, but he pulled off unbelievable shots,” Struff remarked.
“This is going to be unique. This is in Madrid, Spain. He’s probably 20-0 on Spanish clay courts, so it’ll be a tough match. I have to go for it or I won’t have a chance.”
Struff, who defeated fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals, became the third fortunate loser to reach the Masters 1000 semi-finals, following Thomas Johansson in Toronto in 2004 and Lucas Pouille in Rome in 2016.