Jan-Lennard Struff became the first lucky loser to reach an ATP Masters 1000 final on Friday when he edged qualifier Aslan Karatsev 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Last week, Karatsev beat Struff in the final qualifying round to advance to the main draw. Ten days later, the players contested their first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final after picking up a string of stunning wins in the Spanish capital.
In front of a packed Manolo Santana Stadium, Struff exacted revenge to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 final and move within a victory of his first title. After struggling to manage Karatsev’s pace in the first set, the German readjusted and produced a crisp, aggressive display in the second and third sets to blast a tiring Karatsev off the court. The 33-year-old hit 37 winners and broke qualifier serve three times to advance to his second league match at tour level.
“It’s amazing,” Struff said. “I didn’t think about it. I’ve already played a final in Munich  but there were no crowds due to Covid. Now I’m here and [there is] an incredible crowd. I think Sunday there will also be a very good crowd. I’m very happy to reach a final and very happy with the victory.”
With his victory in two hours and 18 minutes, Struff moved up to 28th in the Pepperstone ATP Live rankings. The German, who hit a previous career-high No. 29 in August 2020, will play for his first tour-level title when he takes on defending champion Carlos Alcaraz on Sunday.
“We played an amazing game at Wimbledon last year and I was close to beating him, but he had some amazing shots in the tie-break,” Struff said of the final against Alcaraz. “It’s going to be different. It’s in Spain, in Madrid. I think he’s 20-0 on Spanish clay, so it’s going to be very difficult. I have to go otherwise I won’t have a chance I will do my best to beat him and win my first title.”
Struff is aiming to become the second lucky loser to win an ATP Tour title this season following Soonwoo Kwon’s triumph in Adelaide in January. The German, who stunned Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals, was the third lucky loser to reach the semi-finals at an ATP Masters 1000 event, joining Thomas Johansson in Toronto in 2004 and Lucas Pouille in Rome in 2016.
Karatsev, who reached the semi-finals as a qualifier at the Australian Open in 2021, was aiming for his fourth tour-level trophy this weekend. After dropping to 129th in Pepperstone’s ATP rankings on April 17, he returned to his best form in Madrid, beating top seeds Botic van de Zandschulp, Alex de Minaur and Daniil Medvedev to become the second qualifier to reach the semi-finals. finals. in the history of the tournament. He leaves the clay-court event at No. 51 on the Pepperstone ATP Live rankings.
After Struff took a 3-1 lead in the first set, he struggled to control his groundstrokes in the fast-paced conditions. Karatsev took the ball early on the return to rush the big-served German, advancing ruthlessly to dispatch winners and moving forward.
Struff refused to leave at the start of the second set, however, and was granted an early break. The German increased his intensity and his brand of ‘big man tennis’ began to cause Karatsev problems, with Struff winning 94% (15/16) of his first-serve points to force a decider.
The 33-year-old, who advanced to the clay-court quarter-finals in Monte Carlo last month, continued to search for the ball in the third set. He looked the fresher of the two, crushing Karatsev with his pinpoint strike to seal his 11th win of the season on his fifth match point.
“I feel like Aslan had some issues at the end. He was struggling with his leg which is very unfortunate so I wish him all the best,” Struff said. “For me it wasn’t that easy because I knew I had to put the ball in and be aggressive. I tried to do it at 5/3. I managed to stay calm, I served well and I tried my shots.”
The German moved up 18 places to finish 13th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin and will move up to 10th if he wins the title.
Did you know?
It was the first time a qualifier and a lucky loser had met in an ATP Tour semi-final since Rio de Janeiro in 2020, when qualifier Gianluca Mager beat lucky loser Attila Balazs 7-6 (4 ) 4-6 7-6 (2) .