With only a few weeks to go until the start of the year's second Grand Slam, the French Open, the clay-court season is in full flow and on Sunday the Madrid Open reaches its conclusion with the men's final.
This year's ATP Madrid final pits top seed and Spanish starlet against veteran German Jan-Lennard Struff in a 'David and Goliath' scenario.
At 1/16, Alcaraz is expected to cruise to victory at La Caja Magica but Struff, who is 9/1 to win, has made the final on merit and will be hoping he can pull off a shock in Madrid.
|Carlos Alcaraz vs Jan-Lennard Struff, ATP Madrid final
|La Caja Magica, Madrid, Spain
|18.00pm, Sunday 7th May 2023
|How to watch
|and Amazon Prime
|Carlos Alcaraz 1/16, Jan-Lennard Struff 9/1
Struff may have plenty of experience on the ATP circuit but this is uncharted territory for the 33-year-old, who is expected to be out of his depth against ace Alcaraz.
The German has reached only one other ATP final in his career, having finished runner-up to Nikoloz Basilashvili in the final of the Bavarian Championships, which were also on clay, back in May 2021.
He will be desperate to go a step further this time around and he has already defied expectations in Madrid by becoming the first ever lucky loser to reach the final of an ATP Masters 1000 event.
Struff started the tournament by playing through two qualifiers, beating Luca Nardi before losing to Aslan Karatsev but ultimately booking his spot in the round of 128.
The Warstein-native then strung together wins over Lorenzo Sonego, Ben Shelton, Dusan Lajovic and Pedro Cachin to set up a quarter-final battle with Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Fourth seed Tsitsipas was strongly fancied to advance but Struff pulled off a shock 7-6 5-7 6-3 win to book his spot in the .
In the last four, he then reconvened with fellow qualifier Karatsev, this time winning 4-6 6-3 6-4 when it mattered to make the tournament's final.
Whatever happens in the final, it has been a remarkable tournament from Struff and it is one he can look back on with pride.
The win over Tsitsipas was remarkable and he showed great psychological resolve against Karatsev, making the most of the crowd's support.
In the first set against Karatsev, Struff had issues controlling his groundstrokes from the baseline and often struggled with the pace of the match. But as the game wore on, he found ways to trouble Karatsev and managed to strike 37 winners in the contest to prevail in three sets.
The head-to-head between Alcaraz and Struff is 1-1 with the last meeting at Wimbledon in 2022 having gone to five sets, so a whitewash win for Alcaraz is no foregone conclusion.
With that in mind, Struff could be worth backing to cover his games handicap at +5.5 at .
Alcaraz missed the beginning of the 2023 season through injury but he has made up for lost time, posting a 28-2 win-loss record since his return.
In the process, the Spaniard, who turned 20 on Friday, won three titles - the ATP Buenos Aires, the Indian Wells Masters and the ATP Barcelona.
The only set Alcaraz has dropped in the entire tournament was his very first in his opener against Emil Ruusuvuori and he has since won in straight sets against Grigor Dimitrov, Alex Zverev, Karen Khachanov and Borna Coric, all of whom were inside the top 26 seeds at the tournament.
Top seed Alcaraz has been the man to beat since day one and he will want to sign off in style in front of his home crowd before he heads to the , which starts later this month.
Regarded by many as the next Rafael Nadal, Alcaraz will be desperate to get a French Open crown under his belt, having won the US Open last year, and winning a title like this would be excellent preparation.
He should get the job done but this is a huge occasion for Struff, who has shown he can hold his own against the best, so a 2-1 win for Alcaraz at 10/3 could be a value bet.
Alternatively, punters might consider back over 19.5 games in the contest at 1/1.