"Alcaraz is better than me" - Rafa Nadal favours teen sensation before Madrid Open clash
Winning a thriller against Goffin, Rafa Nadal has booked a mouth-watering clash against fellow Spaniard and touted successor, Carlos Alcaraz in the quarters of the Madrid Open.
Rafael Nadal is downplaying his chances in his much anticipated Madrid Open quarterfinal against Carlos Alcaraz — the youngster touted in Spain as his successor.
The 35-year-old Nadal and the 19-year-old Alcaraz will meet Friday in a clash of generations that Spanish fans had been craving to see up close.
Nadal has won both matches he played against Alcaraz but said the youngster is in better form entering Friday's encounter in what should be a sold-out "Caja Mágica" center court.
"I think that today, he is better than me and he has a good dynamic, a good momentum," Nadal said. "I think I am a very realistic person, and that doesn't take me to not believe that I can win or that I can do it, but today I think that Alcaraz is in a better physical state of mind, is more fit. I came here without playing. He's younger, so he has that extra energy."
Nadal is returning from a six-week injury layoff and couldn't prepare properly for the tournament in Madrid. He saved four match points in his three-set win over David Goffin in the third round on Thursday.
"I'm clear who, from the beginning, has some kind of advantage in tomorrow's match," Nadal said. "But in that regard, I will try to do as much as possible to be competitive."
The ninth-ranked Alcaraz marked his 19th birthday by defeating Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 on Thursday. Alcaraz couldn't disagree more about who will be the favorite on Friday.
"He's one of the best players of the world, and I would say the best player in the world on clay," Alcaraz said. "Even though he says that I'm the favorite, that he's not fit enough, that he comes from an injury, you always have to think of Rafa as the favourite because he has already won here five times and all of the things he has achieved on clay."
"At the end of the day, I'm the new boy, the newcomer, the one that should not have any pressure when playing against one of the best players of history," he said. Nadal and Alcaraz have three titles each this season, the most along with Andrey Rublev.
Nadal said he is more worried about preparing for the upcoming French Open than about beating Alcaraz.
"For him, yes, the momentum of keep on winning, but for me, at the end of the day, is who is going to be better in three weeks' time," the 21-time Grand Slam champion said. "That's my goal."
Nadal said he doesn't see a rivalry with Alcaraz because of the age difference.
"If I had eight or 10 years less, perhaps if Carlos had reached 10 years ago this moment, we could be talking about a new potential rivalry," Nadal said.
"I don't have this kind of rivalries at this stage. My opponents are (Novak) Djokovic, (Roger) Federer, (Andy) Murray in his day. This has been my career and my rivalries."
Djokovic said in Madrid this week that his son has already replaced Nadal with Alcaraz as his idol.
"Alcaraz is his favorite player now," said the top-ranked Serb, who could face either Spaniard in the semifinals if he advances. Nadal said Alcaraz has already shown he has the capability to keep playing at a high level for a long time.
"As a supporter of tennis and sportsperson, I think it's great to have a player like Carlos that has been able to reach this level and this strength," Nadal said. "I think he's a player that's going to give us a lot of good moments in the next, I don't know, 10, 12 years, 14."
Nadal defeated Alcaraz on his 18th birthday in the round of 16 in Madrid last year. He also beat him in the Indian Wells semifinals earlier this year. The young Spaniard said ahead of this week's tournament that last year he was only trying to compete with the best, while now he feels he can be considered one of the best. With his win in Barcelona last month, he became the youngest player in the top 10 since Nadal made it in 2005.
"I think that I am building my path. I feel very happy about the way that the people are cheering me up, the way they are supporting me," Alcaraz said. "I think that little by little, people are supporting me and loving me a little bit more, but Rafa has been many years with us. Many more people know him."