Carlos Alcaraz celebrated becoming the top-ranked tennis player in the world again on Sunday after defending his Madrid Open title.
The Spaniard earned his 10th career title with a hard-fought 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over Jan-Lennard Struff and could snatch the world number one ranking from Novak Djokovic with just one match to play at the Rome Masters. Next week, before the French Open.
Currently ranked second, Alcaraz spent 20 weeks in the top spot following his US Open win in September, becoming the youngest player to reach number one in the world.
Djokovic's Australian Open victory saw him oust Alcaraz but the 20-year-old confirmed he would play in the Italian capital next week.
“These are great achievements, winning my fourth Masters 1000, defending my title here and getting closer to the number one spot,” Alcaraz said at a news conference.
“These are huge things I'm doing, and I'm very proud of the work and these achievements. I'm ambitious and we'll try and go to Rome.”
Alcaraz continued his Roland Garros build-up this year by adding the Madrid trophy to victories in Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Indian Wells, although he was well below his best against world number 65 Lucky Luger Struff.
The victory and his imminent return to the top of the rankings reiterated his bright future at the pinnacle of the sport.
Alcaraz said that his only concern for his future in tennis is injury, not any mental aspect.
Alcaraz said, “You have to try to take care of yourself as much as you can.”
“The mental issue of being tired from winning, traveling or playing tennis doesn't worry me because I know it's not going to happen.
“What I might worry about in the future is the issue of injuries, which we are going to try to take care of together with our team.”
– Title Defense –
Alcaraz was given a tough time by his German rival but eventually became the youngest player to defend an ATP Masters 1000 title since Rafael Nadal in 2006.
Despite being 13 years older than Alcaraz, Struff showed guts in the first game and broke in only his second tour-level final.
Struff soon found his limit and held to love for 2–2 as he showed Alcaraz that he would be no pushover despite strong home support and their disparity in rankings, and then won his third game in a row.
However, Alcaraz again jumped out to a 4–3 lead and survived a triple break point to win the first set.
Struff's power game caused Alcaraz many problems – hitting 14 winners in the first set while the Spaniard had seven.
“I knew the bombs would come my way, Jan is very aggressive,” Alcaraz said.
Struff raced to a 3–0 lead in the second set and made a remarkable hold at 4–1 in the 15-minute fifth game, saving five break points as Alcaraz's serve left him.
The 33-year-old accomplished it as Alcaraz dropped only his second set of the tournament and first set in a Masters 1000 final.
Although the top seed raced to a 3–1 lead in the third set and it proved to be a decider, Alcaraz eventually won when his opponent sent a backhand long.
“Of course I wanted to go all the way to win today, but I would definitely say that if someone told me two weeks ago that you were going to play the final, I would have taken it,” Struff said. who initially lost in qualifying last weekend. before being awarded the ‘Lucky Loser' slot in the main draw after pulling-out due to injury.
On Saturday, world number two Aryna Sabalenka beat top-ranked Iga Swiatek to win the women's title in the Spanish capital.
RBS / DJ