World number two Carlos Alcaraz defended his Madrid Open title with a hard-fought 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over Jan-Lennard Struff on Sunday.
The US Open champion earned his 10th career title and can reclaim the world’s top ranking from Novak Djokovic simply by playing a single match at the Rome Masters next week, before the French Open.
Alcaraz continued his Roland Garros build-up by adding the Madrid trophy to victories in Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Indian Wells this year, although he was below his vibrant best against lucky loser Struff, the world number 65.
The 20-year-old was given a tricky time by his German opponent but eventually became the youngest player since Rafael Nadal in 2006 to defend an ATP Masters 1000 title.
“Today I enjoyed it in parts, in other parts I suffered more than I enjoyed it, but it’s what you have to live with.
“Nerves come into play and it’s difficult, but I think I enjoyed it more than I suffered today,” said Alcaraz.
Despite being 13 years Alcaraz’s senior, Struff showed nerves in the first game and conceded a break when he double-faulted and then sent a volley too long.
It was only his second tour-level final and he was aiming to be the first lucky loser ever to win a title at this level. Struff could also have become the oldest first-time Masters 1000 winner.
Alcaraz consolidated for a 2-0 lead under pressure, surviving a break point as Struff found his range.
The German broke to love for 2-2 as he showed Alcaraz he would be no pushover, despite the strong home support and their disparity in ranking, and then won a third consecutive game.
However Alcaraz broke again for a 4-3 lead when Struff committed another double fault and he survived a triple break point to win the first set, pulling off a fine drop shot and lob combination.
Alcaraz’s speed in defence helped him against Struff’s power game, which created plenty of problems — his opponent hit 14 winners in the first set to the Spaniard’s seven, with points split evenly at 35 each.
Honours were even after their two prior meetings, although Alcaraz needed five sets to beat Struff at Wimbledon last year and the veteran showed the same grit again in the Spanish capital to make the youngster sweat.
Dominant at the net, Struff roared into a 3-0 lead in the second set and produced a remarkable hold in the 15-minute fifth game for 4-1, saving five break points as Alcaraz’s hitting deserted him.
Struff served it out as Alcaraz dropped only his second set of the tournament and first in a Masters 1000 final.
The top seed saved a break point at 1-1 and then broke for a 3-1 lead in the decisive third set when Struff hit a volley long.
Alcaraz forced another break point at 4-1 but Struff stayed resilient until the end and held, with the Spaniard eventually clinching victory when his opponent sent a backhand long.
On Saturday world number two Aryna Sabalenka beat top-ranked Iga Swiatek to win the women’s title in the Spanish capital.