06:30 PM GMT May 03, 2021
#NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz made sure that his birthday bash will be one for the ages.
"It's the best present for my birthday," Alcaraz told Tennis Channel, cracking a laugh. "It's a dream come true. To play against Rafa here in Madrid in front of the Spanish crowd, I will never forget this moment and I will learn from him."
“I don't know how to describe this feeling now,” he added. “It’s a dream come true.”
In order to book the blockbuster clash against his childhood idol, Alcaraz had to go through Adrian Mannarino, a player sitting 86 spots higher in the FedEx ATP Rankings at No. 34. But Alcaraz got the job done in convincing style, blasting 19 forehand winners en route to a 6-4, 6-0 victory.
"They always say the 18th birthday is special, but it will be even more special to turn 18 playing against one of the best tennis players of all time, and the best for me,” Alcaraz said in his post-match press conference. “Rafa is one of my childhood idols. It's going to be very special.”
With his first ATP Masters 1000 victory, Alcaraz checked off a new milestone in a season full of firsts. He began 2021 by qualifying for his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open, where he claimed a victory in his main draw debut after impressing at the end of last season with back-to-back ATP Challenger Tour titles.
Alcaraz’s rapid rise has drawn comparisons to Nadal’s own ATP breakthrough as a teenager. In fact, the 17-year-old just became the youngest match winner in tournament history in Madrid – passing 18-year-old Nadal’s record in 2004.
"There will be many comparisons. I'm sure they'll talk about me and Rafa. They will compare the new generation with the legend,” Alcaraz said. “But I'll try to give my best. I have to play my game, try to keep improving and enjoy it. I'll stick with my feelings on court. I'll be nervous, but I'll try to play as relaxed as possible and give my absolute best.”
Alcaraz will aim to keep his nerves in check as he takes on Nadal inside Manolo Santana Stadium on Wednesday. The top seed will be going for his sixth Mutua Madrid Open title and arrived in the Spanish capital after winning his 87th tour-level title in Barcelona.
"I'm working to manage the nerves. In the difficult moments I try to be aggressive and play my style," Alcaraz said. "I'm improving step by step and these kinds of matches are helping me a lot to grow. I'll use each difficult moment that arises in matches to keep improving."