In the footsteps of Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz, new star of world tennis, “impress everyone”

His name is on everyone’s lips. The Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz dazzles the tennis world with his meteoric rise. Unknown to the general public two years ago, the dark-haired Spaniard with short hair and brown eyes is one of the outsiders at Roland-Garros for his second participation, all the more so after his title, Sunday May 8, in Madrid, his second career Masters 1000. With 27 wins to his name this season for three defeats, including wins against giants Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the Murcian is now one of the contenders for victory in Paris.

Since his first tournament on the main circuit in 2020, he has been setting records for precocity. In February, he won his first ATP 500 in Rio de Janeiro and became, at 18 years, 10 months and the youngest tennis player to afford a tournament of this caliber. In March, he gleaned his first Masters 1000 in Miami. Again, he is the youngest player to win the title in Florida, and even writes his name in history by becoming the first Spaniard to lift the trophy there. Five times finalist, Rafael Nadal has never managed to win.

Only two men have done better in the history of the Masters: the American Michael Chang in Toronto in 1990 (18 years, 5 months and 7 days), and Rafael Nadal in Monte-Carlo in 2005 (18 years, 10 months and 14 days), recalled in April the account Game, Set and Math on Twitter. Do you want more ? At the last Australian Open, then out of qualifying, Alcaraz became the youngest Spanish player to win a Grand Slam match since Nadal in 2003.

Still 318th in the ATP ranking on March 16, 2020, 114th place a year ago, he is this Monday 6th in the world. Where will it stop? Alcaraz “is a player who progresses at a phenomenal rate, explained mid-April Patrick Mouratoglou, consultant for France Televisions in “All sport”. When a player burns the stages like him, in general, it’s a very good sign. He impresses everyone with the quality of his shot, his physical qualities and his ability to win.”

“He will probably soon become one of the best players in the world. I think he will skip the stages very quickly,” saiddefeated Rafael Nadal on May 5, 2021, in front of journalists, after his quick victory against Alcaraz in Madrid (6-1, 6-2) in the second round. Indeed, the young player jumped the steps four by four: a year later, he was the one who got the better of his eldest in the quarter-finals of the Spanish tournament (6-2, 1-6, 6- 3).

Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal pose before their match at the Masters 1000 in Madrid, May 5, 2021. (MAXPPP)

Obviously, we can not help comparing the two Spaniards. They started on the professional circuit at 15 and won their first tournament at 18. It was also at this age that Alcaraz became the youngest player to enter the World Top 10 since … Rafael Nadal in 2005.

Beyond the numbers, the young prodigy shares with the Majorcan his devastating forehand, his predispositions on clay, his steely mind, as well as an attitude and humility welcomed by all. For many, such a comparison would have been stifling and paralyzing. Carlos Alcaraz managed to transform it into an engine to win. “Thanks to ‘Rafa’, I learned the importance of playing with great energy and giving everything from the first ball to the last. The challenge of trying to go where ‘Rafa’ went is also a great motivation for me, even though I know it’s almost impossible”, he confided in April at a press conference after his victory at the Masters 1000 in Miami.

However, Alcaraz also knows how to stand out from the shadow of the giant, as reported by the Corriere della Sera (article in Italian). “I’m from Murcia, he’s from Mallorca. He’s left-handed, not me. Me, when I was little, I was anything but a warrior: small, skinny and not very powerful. The opposite of Nadal…”

On the court, his style is more like Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. His tennis is effective both on clay and hard and more offensive than that of “Rafa”. His range of shots, already very complete, combines powerful and flat shots with other more delicate ones, passing by an exhilarating game at the net. “I like to be aggressive, to score a lot of direct points. Mour style more or less resembles that of Federer”he estimated in February 2020 on the ATP website.

Carlos Alcaraz nets in the Miami Masters 1000 final on April 3, 2022 against Norwegian Casper Ruud.  (MAXPPP)

Like the players of the historic “Big 3”, Carlos Alcaraz learns quickly, a sign of astonishing maturity given his age. His defeat in November 2021 against Hugo Gaston in the round of 16 at the Paris-Bercy Masters, in front of an audience totally devoted to the cause of the Habs, is one of the most striking examples of this. Carlos Alcaraz, who led 5-0 in the second set, completely lost track of the match before losing 6-4, 7-5. “I experienced a real mental block. I was overwhelmed, I no longer knew how to play”, he said in February in The Team (article for subscribers). “When I left, I cried, I had a feeling of helplessness. (…) After one or two days, it had cooled down a lot. I then said to myself that it was nice to have experienced this situation , in order to accumulate enough experience so that it does not happen again, at least not in the same way.

It is “by far the game that served Carlos the most in 2021, assured Juan Carlos Ferrero. The former world number one and winner of Roland-Garros in 2003, has been training Alcaraz since he was 15 years old.

“During the last NextGen Masters (which he won), in November 2021 in Milan, what Carlos wanted most in the world, even more than the title, was to be able to play again immediately against Hugo Gaston, and that says a lot of his personality.”

Juan Carlos Ferrero, coach of Carlos Alcaraz

at L’Equipe, in February 2022

His student does not seem the type to take the big head. “I’m doing great things, I’m winning titles. So inevitably, in these moments the people are talking about you, I try to take that simply and continue on the path that I have set for myself”, underlined in Monte-Carlo at the microphone of “Tout le sport”, the one who “dream is to be world number one one day” and “win all the Grand Slam tournaments”. Modest, but ambitious.I can win a Grand Slam this year. And I’m not afraid to say it”he confided in April to the Spanish sports daily brand (article in English).

Carlos Alcaraz and his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, celebrate the young Spaniard's victory in Barcelona, ​​April 24, 2022.   (MAXPPP)

His fanfare start to his career also impresses the other players on the circuit. “It’s amazing, what he does. At his age, I don’t even know if I had an ATP point. With each match, he proves his enormous potential a little more”, Italy’s Matteo Berrettini said after his fifth-set tiebreaker victory over Alcaraz in the third round of the Australian Open. “He is not the future of tennis, he is already the present”, assured for his part Gaël Monfils, impressed after his defeat against him in the round of 16 at Indian Wells, in March.

Even Tony Nadal is full of praise for him. “In case anyone has any doubts, there are no more: Spanish tennis does not only have a promising horizon, it has Carlos Alcaraz. He is not only the current player but probably the best placed to succeed the members of the ‘Big 3’ on the world stage”he wrote in September 2021 in a column published in El País (content in Spanish for subscribers). In Spain, he is already the new darling of the national press. When El Pais (article for subscribers) Talk about “rough diamond to polish over time”, Sports world writing : “Carlos Alcaraz, with his game and his personality on the court, is already at only 18 years old the new and irresistible magnet of the public, wherever he plays.”

Will he continue his momentum at Roland-Garros? He is at the top of the list of suitors, along with Nadal, Djokovic and Tsitsipas. History is already ready to make room for it. In June 2005, Rafael Nadal, at just 19 years old, won his first title at Roland-Garros. It is easy to imagine Alcaraz experiencing a comparable fate at Porte d’Auteuil.

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