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Preview: Carlos Alcaraz Begins Madrid Title Defence, Seeking Another Spanish Double | ATP Tour

Preview: Carlos Alcaraz Begins Madrid Title Defence, Seeking Another Spanish Double | ATP Tour

Friday’s play at the Mutua Madrid Open sees the top singles seeds in action for the first time. Among those set to open their campaigns on Day 3 at the ATP Masters 1000 event are defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, Monte-Carlo champ Andrey Rublev and last week’s Munich winner, Holger Rune.

Third seed Casper Ruud is also on the slate and joins those three in having claimed a clay-court title this month, the Norwegian’s coming at the ATP 250 in Estoril. Tenth seed Karen Khachanov, 12th seed Hubert Hurkacz and 13th seed Alexander Zverev will also begin their Madrid campaigns, while many singles stars are also set for doubles action. breaks down some of the biggest matchups on Friday’s schedule across the men’s singles draw and men’s doubles draw.

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[1] Carlos Alcaraz (ESP) vs. Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN)

Fresh off a successful Barcelona title defence, Alcaraz could complete a second Spanish trophy double in as many years by retaining the Madrid crown. Last year at the ATP Masters 1000, Alcaraz beat Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev to triumph on home soil.

While he says he does not feel like a favourite in the Spanish capital, Alcaraz enters in good health and great form.

“Physically, I feel good. I feel 100 per cent,” he said in his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday. “I can’t wait to get going in Madrid. With the level I produced in Barcelona, winning the title, I’m coming here with a lot of confidence.”

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Alcaraz: ‘I Want To Entertain In Madrid’

The Spaniard’s 15-match winning streak at Spanish ATP Tour events is partly explained by further comments he made in press. While some players might feel added pressure to perform in front of their home crowd, Alcaraz said he draws motivation from the support and relishes the opportunity to entertain the Spanish fans.

He will hope to ride their cheers to his first ATP Head2Head win against Emil Ruusuvuori on Friday, with the Finn beating Alcaraz in their lone previous meeting, a three-setter in the 2021 Miami opening round.

But the 24-year-old Ruusuvuori is well aware of the giant strides his opponent has made since that meeting.

“He can pretty much do anything from any court position he is in,” he said of Alcaraz, speaking to ahead of the matchup. “He’s coming in [to the net] great, super-fast defence, and even the serve has improved. There’s not too much you can actually pick on. Overall, you just have to have the game solid, and at the best possible quality.”

Ruusuvuori made his Madrid debut on Wendesday with a 7-6(6), 7-6(4) win against Ugo Humbert, and will now seek his third Top 10 win — and his first Top 10 win on clay — against Alcaraz.

[5] Andrey Rublev vs. Stan Wawrinka (SUI)

Rublev and Stan Wawrinka will meet for the third straight time at an ATP Masters 1000 in their first matchup overall since the 2020 Rolex Paris Masters. While Wawrinka holds a 2-1 ATP Head2Head lead in the series and already has a Madrid win under his belt this week — a 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(4) result against Maxime Cressy on Wednesday — Rublev enters the match in red-hot form after his title in Monte-Carlo and a final run in Banja Luka.

“I think I can play well,” Wawrinka, a 2013 finalist in Madrid, said of the challenge ahead. “I’ve played him a few times already in my career. He’s in top form, it’s going to be a tough battle, but a great challenge for me. That’s the reason I keep playing, to play the top players and try to beat them.”

The Swiss will be seeking his first Top 10 win on clay since he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas at Roland Garros in 2019. In order to avoid the unwelcome milestone of a 100th Top 10 defeat (he enters at 61-99 in his career vs. the Top 10, including a 21-31 mark on clay), Wawrinka will need to use his heavy ground game to keep the aggressive Rublev behind the baseline.

The fifth-seeded Rublev has enjoyed plenty of clay-court success throughout his career, showing that there is much more to his game beyond his trademark big hitting. But while his patience and defence helps on the margins, it’s still the attacking baseline game that fuels Rublev’s success on the dirt.

The 25-year-old’s Monte-Carlo title was his biggest ATP Tour triumph on any surface, with four of his 13 tour-level titles coming on clay. With two previous appearances in Madrid, his best result was a quarter-final run last year.

[6] Holger Rune (DEN) vs. Alexander Bublik (KAZ)

Both Rune and Alexander Bublik enter this second-round match on the heels of a dramatic win.

Rune saved four championship points to ultimately defeat Botic van de Zandschulp in a third-set tie-break and retain his Munich title on Sunday. In Madrid, Bublik opened his campaign with a 7-6(15), 6-7(4), 6-4 win against Daniel Elahi Galan that featured a 25-minute opening-set tie-break, the longest of the 2023 ATP Tour season to date.

The result broke a five-match losing streak for Bublik, earning the Montpellier semi-finalist his sixth win of the 2023 season. 

“When you don’t win a lot, it’s tough to finish matches, and I never felt it before because [for the past few seasons I made] 35-plus wins on the season,” Bublik told after the victory. “[So far this year] I only had five, so finishing matches is not easy. I hope to get the momentum back, play better, and win more matches.”

It won’t get any easier against Rune, who holds an 8-1 clay-court record this season, beginning with his run to the Monte-Carlo final. While Bublik has made no secret that clay is not his favourite surface, he had plenty of time to adapt to the Madrid conditions in his two-hour, 50-minute win against Galan.

He faces a very different opponent in the attack-minded Rune, but his success in the rallies against Galan gives him something to build on as he bids for the upset.

Also In Action…

In evening action in Manolo Santana Stadium, Zverev takes on Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena, who will enjoy the backing of the late-night crowd in Madrid. Expect a party atmosphere on centre court, with Carballes Baena bidding to back up his first Madrid main-draw win with an upset against the two-time champion in their first ATP Head2Head meeting.

Zverev claimed the Madrid title in 2018 and 2021 and has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his past five appearances at the ATP Masters 1000. He is bidding for his 350th tour-level win, which would also even his 2023 record at 11-11.

In Arantxa Sanchez Stadium, Ruud faces Italian qualifier Matteo Arnaldi. After winning the Estoril title in early April, Ruud is 2-2 in his past four matches across Monte-Carlo and Barcelona. The 22-year-old Arnaldi picked up his first ATP Masters 1000 win by beating fellow qualifier Benoit Paire in a third-set tie-break on Wednesday and will next attempt to hand Ruud his second straight opening-match defeat in Madrid.

Other notable matchups include 10th seed Khachanov’s meeting with Thiago Monteiro and 12th seed Hurkacz’s opening assignment against Richard Gasquet.

Five doubles matches are also on the Friday schedule. In a matchup of singles stars, Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe take on Cameron Norrie and Tommy Paul, while Canadians Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov meet Colombian doubles stalwarts Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.

Petros Tsitsipas and Stefanos Tsitsipas are also in action against fourth seeds Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer, the highest seeds on the day’s doubles slate. That matchup is a rematch of their Monte-Carlo second-round meeting, won by Arevalo/Rojer in a Match Tie-break.

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