Madrid Open storm: 1am finishes, cake drama, model ball girls, sexism and ‘helping’ Carlos Alcaraz to win

Shahida Jacobs
Carlos Alcaraz Madrid Open birthday cake
Carlos Alcaraz birthday cake

The 2023 Madrid Open came to a conclusion over the weekend as Carlos Alcaraz successfully defended his title while Aryna Sabalenka won the women’s crown.

From the face of it, the ATP-WTA 1000 tournament at Caja Magica was a massive success following its expansion to a two-week, 96-player main draw event as there was equal prize money for both men’s and women’s players, extra rest days and birthday celebrations featuring some of the top players.

However, the cracks started to appear early in the tournament as many players were unhappy with the scheduling as some matches still finished in the early hours of the morning despite the extra playing days when compared to previous editions.

World No 1 Iga Swiatek was one of those who expressed concern, saying: “This hour is tricky only because what’s going on after, you know, going to sleep really late and then waking up the next day. But before the match and during, I don’t think it matters. We just have to kind of adjust tactics.”

Swiatek reached the final and finished runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka and there was an awkward moment during the trophy presentation ceremony that featured tournament director Feliciano Lopez and other dignitaries as the Pole admitted: “It’s not fun to play at 1am though but I’m happy anyway that I was able to get past this experience and survive and be in the final.”

There were also debates over birthday cakes, models being used as ball girls and sexism.

Both Alcaraz and Sabalenka celebrated their birthdays on May 5 and both received cakes, but while the former had a two-layer cake, Sabalenka’s was a one-layer affair that raised some eyebrows on social media.

The Madrid Open also has a long history with model ball girls and boys as they first started using models back in 2004.

Nine years later and it is back in the news as female models wearing crop tops and mini skirts were doing the work of the regular ball kids during men’s matches on Manolo Santana Stadium while women’s matches had male models.

Four-time women’s doubles Grand Slam champion and commentator Rennae Stubbs was asked for her thoughts on it and simply replied: “It’s ridiculous.”

Social media users were outraged with the “sexist rubbish”.

Let’s not forget the post-match controversy after the women’s doubles on Sunday as those involved in the final – winners Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Maia Hadid and runners-up Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula – were not allowed to do the traditional post-match speeches as the court had to be prepared for the men’s final featuring Alcaraz and Jan-Lennard Struff.

Gauff first took to Twitter to give her “thank you speech” following the match, writing: “Wasn’t given the chance to speak after the final today:( But thank you to the fans for supporting us and women’s tennis this week! Thanks @JLPegula for always keeping it fun on the court and hitting unreal clutch shots hahahaha Lastly, big congratulations Vika and Bia ”

She added: “Also thanks to my team and Jess’s team of course! Also for the ball kids, tournament staff, and everyone else who works hard behind the scenes. Twitter format doesn’t allow me to say everything I would’ve said during the speech if we had one. But just wanted to say I ‘m thankful.”

And then former world No 1 Azarenka also turned to Twitter.

“I would like to say thank you to all the fans for coming out and supporting us! Thank you to Bia for an incredible week! Our first title together! Congrats to @JLPegula and @CocoGauff for the final and your teams! Thank you to all the people behind the scenes for working hard! I would like to say thank you to my team for your hard work and support! An unforgettable week.”

She ended with a swipe at organisers.

“Hard to explain to Leo that mommy isn’t able to say hello to him at the trophy ceremony,” the two-time Australian Open champion wrote.

Let’s not forget the talk that Madrid Open organisers tried to make life easier for Alcaraz as they didn’t give him any late matches at Caja Magica.

Former world No 5 Daniela Hantuchova felt it was not only the scheduling, but also the courts that helped the local hero.

“One thing guys I do want to point out, the groundspeople have watered the court twice since we’ve been talking,” she told Amazon Prime. “So I feel they’re trying to make the court as slow as possible so it’s easier for Carlos to return that serve.”

She added: “But that doesn’t happen, that was the first time this week that I noticed that he’s already covered at least this side twice with the water.”

When she was asked if the Spaniard received special treatment, she replied: “Of course. Especially on clay, that’s what we were kind of always expecting when you play a Spanish player here or in Italy when you play someone from Italy.”

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