No Nadal, No Djokovic. Can Alcaraz be stopped?

April 30, 2023

Ion Tiriac, owner of the Mutua Madrid Open, has made no secret of his desire to turn his tournament into something as close to a Grand Slam event as possible.

Ion Tiriac, owner of the Mutua Madrid Open, has made no secret of his desire to turn his tournament into something as close to a Grand Slam event as possible. In 2009, he moved it from the fall to the more relevant spring, made it dual-gender, offered sky-high—and equal—prize money, and lobbied to make it a two-week event. Fourteen years later, he has nearly achieved his goal. Like its fellow 1000s in Indian Wells and Miami, Madrid now occupies close to a fortnight on the tour’s calendars.

What it doesn’t have, however, is the sport’s two most famous active players, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The ailing Big 2 are all about the majors at this stage in their careers, and despite Tiriac’s best efforts, Madrid still isn’t one of them.

Rafa and Djokovic aside, though, the field is a full one, and, at nearly $9 million, the prize money is pretty eye-popping, too. Here’s a look at what we can expect on the men’s side in Madrid over the next two weeks.

First Quarter

Coming into Madrid a year ago, we knew Carlos Alcaraz was good. When he went out and beat Nadal and Djokovic back to back, and won the title, we knew he was potentially all-time good. Twelve months later, he hasn’t done anything to make us change our minds. He’s the top seed, the No. 2 player in the world, and he has a gaudy 23-2 record and three titles this season. Add to that the fact that he’ll be playing on a surface he loves, in front of his home-country fans, and you have to make Carlitos the heavy favorite to repeat. If he reaches the quarterfinals, he’ll even play a match on his 20th birthday.

Is there anyone in this quarter who can keep Alcaraz from ruining the party? The three seeds nearby are Grigor Dimitrov, Sebastian Korda and Alexander Zverev. Of those three, Zverev, who beat Alcaraz at Roland Garros last year and is a two-time champion in Madrid, looks to be the most dangerous. On the other side of this quarter, Andrey Rublev is the highest seed in the quarter. He’s been on a good run this spring, and has never played Alcaraz.

First-round match to watch: Stan Wawrinka vs. Maxime Cressy

Semifinalist: Alcaraz

Second Quarter

Casper Ruud and Holger Rune are the top two seeds here, and a quarterfinal meeting between these Scandinavian antagonists (Scantagonists?) would be spicy. What are the chances we see it?

Right now, it’s the lower-ranked Rune who is in better form. He’s 8-1, with a title and a runner-up finish during the clay swing. Ruud also has a clay title, in Estoril, but that’s the rare highlight in a middling year for a player who made two Slam finals in 2022. Ruud was a semifinalist in Madrid two years ago, but Rune’s more muscular game style may be better suited to the fast conditions there.

Also here: Lorenzo Musetti and 2022 quarterfinalist Hubert Hurkacz

Semifinalist: Rune

Third Quarter

We know Alcaraz and Djokovic will be favorites at Roland Garros, and Nadal if he’s healthy enough to play. But what about that other clay standout of recent years, Stefanos Tsitsipas? He was one set from the title in Paris two years ago, and he seems to have finally recovered from the shoulder injury he developed in Australia in January. Tsitsipas had to be encouraged by his trip to the Barcelona final last week, but discouraged by his straight-set loss to a clearly superior Alcaraz on Sunday.

Tsitsipas is the highest seed in this quarter, and would seem to have a manageable path to the semifinals. The three nearby seeds are Sebastian Baez, Tommy Paul and Dan Evans, and the highest seed in the quarter is Felix Auger-Aliassime. The Canadian was a quarterfinalist in Madrid last year, but a knee injury has kept him out since Miami.

Americans to watch: Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Ben Shelton, Mackenzie McDonald, Marcos Giron. The Madrid clay should be a little more hospitable to their hard-court-based games than it is in other places.

Potential second-round match to watch: Tsitsipas vs. Dominic Thiem

Semifinalist: Tsitsipas

Fourth Quarter

Daniil Medvedev is the biggest question mark in this draw. On the plus side, he has been the most consistent player on tour in 2023, with a 31-4 record and four titles. The slightly quicker conditions in Madrid should also, in theory, favor his flat ball-striking. But then there’s the minus side. Medvedev has never won a title on clay, and has never reached the quarterfinals in Madrid. He also may no longer be riding the momentum that carried him through February and March.

How Medvedev does here may depend on his attitude to the surface and to this part of the season. Is he invested in it? On paper, he’s the best player in this quarter. The seeds nearest him are Jiri Lehecka, Botic Van de Zandschulp, and Alex de Minaur; the two highest seeds in the other half are Taylor Fritz and Cam Norrie.

Speaking of Fritz, he’s coming off semifinals runs in Monte Carlo and Munich, and he should like the serve-friendly conditions in Madrid even more.

Potential second-round match to watch: Medvedev vs. Andy Murray

Semifinalist: Fritz

Semifinals: Alcaraz d. Rune; Tsitsipas d. Fritz

Final: Alcaraz d. Tsitsipas.


No Nadal, No Djokovic. Can Alcaraz be stopped?