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Jan-Lennard Struff is seeking his first tour-level title in Madrid.

First-time ATP Masters 1000 Semi-Finalists Karatsev & Struff Clash In Madrid

Pair meeting for first time

Semi-final Friday at the 2023 Mutua Madrid Open sees top seed and defending champion Carlos Alcaraz attempt to celebrate his 20th birthday by reaching his fourth ATP Masters 1000 championship match.

Standing in the Spaniard’s way is 17th seed Borna Coric. The pair’s clash on Manolo Santana Stadium will be their maiden ATP Head2Head meeting.

Aslan Karatsev and Jan-Lennard Struff, who meet in the second semi-final of the day at the Caja Magica, are also playing each other for the first time at Tour-level. Yet the pair faced off in Madrid just 10 days ago, when Karatsev downed Struff in the final round of qualifying before the German was added to the main draw at the clay-court Masters 1000 as a lucky loser.

ATPTour.com looks ahead to two intriguing matchups set for Friday’s schedule in the Spanish capital.

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[Q] Aslan Karatsev vs. [LL] Jan-Lennard Struff (GER)

A perhaps-unexpected semi-final meeting, and one that seemed even more unlikely when Karatsev defeated Struff in straight sets in the final round of qualifying 10 days ago. Yet both Karatsev and Struff have lit up the Caja Magica this year with a string of big-hitting performances to set the first ATP Tour semi-final between a qualifier and a lucky loser since Gianluca Mager played Attila Balazs in Rio de Janeiro in 2020.

The former World No. 14 Karatsev brought his brilliant best to down seeded opponents Botic van de Zandschulp, Alex de Minaur and the in-form Daniil Medvedev in Madrid, before seeing off Zhang Zhizhen in the quarter-finals. His run has propelled the 29-year-old 70 spots to No. 51 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, and he will rise to No. 35 if he reaches his first Masters 1000 final.

The three-time tour-level titlist’s ability to strike clean winners off both wings will be key to his chances, although the same could be said of Struff. The German showed his ability to go toe-to-toe with the best from the baseline against World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Thursday’s quarter-finals, and the World No. 65 will also hope his booming serve can deny Karatsev the time to find his range on return.

Struff is the third lucky loser to reach the semi-finals at a Masters 1000 tournament after Thomas Johansson (2004, Toronto) and Lucas Pouille (2016, Rome), while Karatsev is just the second qualifier in Madrid tournament history to reach the semi-finals after Fabrice Santoro in 2002. With both playing for a spot in their first Masters 1000 final, their ability to handle the scale of the occasion will likely be decisive.


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[1] Carlos Alcaraz (ESP) vs. [17] Borna Coric (CRO)

Aside from dropping his opening set of the tournament to an inspired Emil Ruusuvuori, Alcaraz’s title defence in Madrid could hardly have gone more smoothly thus far.

The 19-year-old powered to the semi-finals without dropping another set, handling home pressure in style to extend his winning streak at ATP Tour events on Spanish soil to 19. On his 20th birthday, Alcaraz will attempt to make it 20 consecutive ATP Tour victories in his homeland by prevailing in his first tour-level meeting against Coric.

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Alcaraz’s near-flawless all-court performances against Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and Karen Khachanov in Madrid may make him favourite to book a championship-match berth on Manolo Santana Stadium, but Coric knows all about upsetting higher-ranked opponents on an ATP Masters 1000 stage. Last year in Cincinnati, the then-World No. 152 downed Top 10 opponents Rafael Nadal, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to becoming the lowest-ranked champion in Masters 1000 history.

That triumph helped Coric restablish himself in the Top 30 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings after a year out with a shoulder injury. Now 11-8 for 2023 and up to No. 16 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings after reaching his maiden Madrid semi-final, the 26-year-old will hope to summon the best of his energetic baseline game in order to become just the third player to defeat World No. 2 Alcaraz on Tour this year.

“He’s absolutely an unbelievable player in unbelievable shape in the moment as well,” Coric said of Alcaraz after the Croatian downed Daniel Altmaier in the quarter-finals. “So he’s the favourite and I’m going to just go out there and I’m going to enjoy myself. I like to play here in this stadium and it’s going to be a very cool feeling for sure.”

One of the fastest movers on Tour, Coric’s speed could be crucial to countering Alcaraz’s trademark drop shot. However, the all-around nature of Alcaraz’s game and his ability to strike winners from all parts of the court gives the Spaniard the option to adapt his tactics if required against the Croatian.

Alcaraz, who has lifted titles in Buenos Aires, Indian Wells and Barcelona already this season, effectively has his eyes on a double prize in Madrid. Should he defeat Coric and go on to successfully defend his title at the Caja Magica, he can seal his return to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings simply by playing a match later this month at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome.