MADRID: Rafael Nadal one day. Novak Djokovic the next.
The list of victims of Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz keeps growing.
And so does the hype over tennis’ newest sensation.
After defeating his idol Nadal in the quarterfinals on Friday, the 19-year-old Alcaraz rallied to beat top-ranked Djokovic 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) after more than 3 1/2 hours on Saturday to reach the Madrid Open final.
“It was one of those matches to enjoy,” Alcaraz said. “Despite the tension, despite being the semifinals, being 7-6 in the third-set tiebreaker ... I’ve enjoyed it. Until the last point I was being able to smile.”
In the women’s final, Ons Jabeur of Tunisia won her biggest career title by defeating Jessica Pegula of the U.S. in three sets.
Jabeur, the first Arab woman in the top 10, won 7-5, 0-6, 6-3 for her second career title.
“When I had the match point, I was like, I had to win it from the beginning, otherwise it’s going to be very tough for me," Jabeur said. "But I’m very happy and trying to realize that I won today, really.”
Pegula, a one-time tour winner, will reach a career-high No. 11 ranking on Monday.
Alcaraz became the first player to beat Nadal and Djokovic at the same clay-court event. He converted his third match point in front of a raucous home crowd on the Caja Mágica centre court.
“It’s a spectacular feeling right now,” Alcaraz said. “I’m very excited to be able to play these kind of matches, to be able to beat Rafa yesterday, to be able to beat the No. 1 today.”
A win on Sunday will give Alcaraz his fourth title this season, the most of any player.
He will face defending champion Alexander Zverev, who defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. The second-seeded German player converted three of his five break opportunities to clinch the victory in nearly two hours in match that ended after 1 a.m. local time (2300 GMT).
Zverev is now 19-2 in Madrid, where he also won the title in 2018.
“This is my favourite court in the world,” Zverev said. “This is the Caja Mágica and it is doing magic for me because I came into this tournament playing really bad. I was not very confident I didn't win a lot of matches this year but this court brings something out of me.”
The fourth-seeded Tsitsipas had beaten Zverev in the Monte Carlo semifinals earlier this year.
Alcaraz lost both matches he played against Zverev, all last year on hard courts.
“I know 99.999% per cent of the people will be against me tomorrow but this is completely fine,” he said with a smile. “I'm still thankful that you guys are here at 1:10 a.m.. It's going to be a fun match tomorrow.”
Zverev returned to the empty centre court after his match to practice his service.
Alcaraz, the youngest player in the top 10 since Nadal in 2005, has won this year in Miami, Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona.
Djokovic remains without a title this season as he continues to try to regain his best form going into his title defence at the French Open this month.
“Congrats to him. He held his nerves very well," Djokovic said. “For somebody of his age to play so maturely and courageously is impressive. He deserved to win.”
Alcaraz, the youngest ever to reach the Madrid semifinals, took an early lead in the first set but Djokovic rallied.
The Spaniard took the second set after Djokovic wasted three break opportunities to serve for the match, and kept the pressure on during the third until finally capitalizing on one of his many chances in the tiebreaker.
The matchwinner came was one of Alcaraz's more than 30 forehand winners that kept Djokovic on the defensive throughout. Alcaraz had 51 winners to Djokovic’s 24.
“It was so close," Alcaraz said. "He had the chances to break my serve at the end of the second set. In the first set as well it was so close in the tiebreak. Honestly, I don’t know what made the difference.”