Mutua Madrid Open 2021: Alcaraz against the poster and other historical duels in the history of tennis

The history of tennis is marked by first matches between great stars and young promises who later took the baton from the hands of their idols. Players who in many cases had grown up dreaming of imitating those references and then surpassing their achievements. This Wednesday’s match at the Manolo Santana de la Caja Mgica between Carlos Alcaraz and Rafa Nadal, in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open, of course meets these requirements.

It is risky to predict how far the Murcian can go and of course very unfair to compare him with a Nadal who is already a racket legend. But this does not hide that we are before the most promising player that Spanish tennis has given since the spectacular irruption of the Balearic Islands at the beginning of the century. Alcaraz, who turns 18 today, holds several records for precocity and last Monday he became the Youngest tennis player to win a main draw match at the Mutua Madrid Open, snatching such an honor from none other than Rafa.

That is why you can take a tour through the history of tennis recalling other games that faced great stars consecrated with young promises at the time for the first time that soon after they would occupy the throne of world tennis. Five games that reflect like few others the evolution of this sport from the days of Rod Laver to the present day. And for starters, nothing better than Nadal. Because Rafa also had his pain …


Rafa Nadal and Carlos Moy. Rodolfo Espinosa

Carlos Moy is the current coach of the 13-time winner in Paris but before that he was the idol of his childhood. In 1999, Moy became the first Spaniard to lead the ATP ranking, a year after winning Philippe Chatrier’s clay court. Nadal grew up watching his countryman and dreamed of emulating him. History would later say that it would go much further. That historic first duel between the two took place at the Hamburg Masters 1000 – before the Mutua Madrid Open – on May 15, 2003.

Moy was the second seed of the tournament – and number 4 in the world – and in the second round top with a beardless 16-year-old Nadal who comes from the previous phase. The duel was even but fell on the side of the manacor (7-5, 6-4), who ended up apologizing online for his venerated fraud: “Uncle, I’m sorry I beat you.” Nadal and Moy will end up playing eight games, with six victories for the former.


Roger Federer and Pete Sampras.

Roger Federer and Pete Sampras.Clive Brunskill / ALLSPORT

Sampras was not Roger Federer’s childhood idol in beautiful Basel, but he was an undoubted tension reference. because of the way they both interpreted the game. The only duel between the two is living tennis history as it occurred in the knockout stages of Wimbledon 2001.

The American, who already had seven titles on the London grass, the last four in a row, had lost one of his last 57 games in the tournament so few thought that this tall Swiss with a ponytail, barely 19 years old, was going to put an end to such a beautiful idyll.

The duel itself was peak, five sets (7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2) and 7-5) and with constant alternatives. The experts pointed out that the change from the grass that same year for a harder one that generated a higher type of pot significantly weighed down Sampras’ chances of scoring an eighth title. Federer, who broke down in tears, would later fall into the quarterfinals and didn’t win his first Wimbledon until 2003. That loss was the beginning of the end for Sampras, who still won the US Open the following year shortly before retiring.


Boris Becker and John McEnroe.

Boris Becker and John McEnroe.

At the end of March 1985, John McEnroe was the number 1 in world tennis. The irreverent New Yorker, only 26 years old, had come to win Wimbledon for the third time and the US Open for the fourth time and seemed on the crest of the wave. He was also going to play a tournament that he was especially good at, Milan Indoor, which he had already won in 1979, 1980 and 1981. His rival in the first round was a crazy blond 17-year-old German who goes by the name Boris Becker …

McEnroe not only won that game 6-4, 6-3, but he would end up taking the tournament. Who would have thought then that that German tennis player who admired Bjrn Borg was going to succeed him in the palmars of the Great Londoner, in one of the most surprising victories in the history of tennis. Becker played nine more games against John, winning eight of them.


There are few clearer examples of what it takes to bear witness than the mourning that follows. It happened in September 1981, in the first round of the Geneva Tournament. The Swede Bjrn Borg, who had just lost the top spot in the world rankings to McEnroe’s benefit, he was up against a 17-year-old compatriot named Mats Wilander.

Borg did not give his rival a choice and won by a double 6-1. He will eventually win the title. Nothing then presaged that his retirement was just around the corner with only 26 years. As for Wilander, it took just a few months for him to surprise the tennis world with his first crown at Roland Garros.


This game is a bit outside the established canons but it is especially emotional. Rod Laver, the man who took tennis to a new dimension, was still active in 1975. In fact, on the day of his thirty-seventh birthday he finally faced an official duel, after playing an exhibition that same year at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Jimmy Connors, the first big star of the next generation. It happened on August 9 in the semi-finals of the Volvo International (in New Hampshire) and the duel ended with a victory for the 22-year-old Connors, who the previous year had added his first three Grand Slams, by a double 6-4.