Carlos Alcaraz (19) has been duping the tennis elite for weeks and he is already one of the favorites at the French Open. His grandfather gave him three keywords to take with him.
Carlito, thank you, or Charlie, that’s fine too. But Carlos? He does not want to be called that. “It sounds so serious,” says Carlos Alcaraz. “Like I did something wrong.”
Shortly after his 19th birthday, he still does not feel like an adult. After all, you can be the best tennis player in the world as a youngster. That’s exactly what competitors call it, and they should know it. For Novak Djokovic, it is “not a question at all”, and Alexander Zverev repeated it several times over the past weekend.
“Even if you’re only five years old,” Zverev exaggerated, after having no chance in the Madrid final, “you beat us all.” Again, this was not an exaggeration. It’s great for the sport to get a new superstar.
In Madrid, he did his most magical trick to date
Alcaraz smiled proudly, clapped and returned the compliments: the German would become number one in the world and win many Grand Slams. Zverev laughed so incredulously that one could read his thoughts: “Not if you play along, “he might have thought. The Spaniard hurried to add,” No, I do not mean that as a joke. ”
Carlos Alcaraz has enchanted the competition. At the same time, it seems as if he has enchanted the assembled audience: tennis fans, experts and those who count themselves among them. They are all in love with the new prodigy.
At the Masters in Madrid, he did his most magical trick to date: beating three of the top five in the world rankings in a row. Against Rafael Nadal (6: 2, 1: 6, 6: 3) even an injury did not stop him, the semifinals against Djokovic (6: 7, 7: 5, 7: 6) balanced on the knife edge for three and a half hours.
And in the final, Zverev was presented in such a way that even the home crowd had hoped for a little more excitement. “Even if I had been fresh and rested, I probably would not have beaten him,” said the loser, who is not usually suspected of being a particularly good loser, afterwards.
The extraordinary: the competition defaults on him
“He plays hungry. As if he has nothing to lose,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, another top five player. “I think he’s unstoppable,” Nadal says. “He has all the ingredients he needs. Passion, humility – he’s a good guy.” That’s what’s truly extraordinary: Although almost everyone has been overtaken by him, everyone on the tour, which is filled with selfishness, seems to be failing Alcaraz’s success. When 2021 began, ATP listed the Spaniard in 141st place. This year, only Nadal has collected more points than his compatriot.
Alcaraz has competed 31 times since the beginning of the year, and his opponents have had to congratulate him 28 times. An incredible rate. In terms of net skills, volleys and defensive play, the Spaniard offers the best tennis has to offer at the moment. Additionally: Alcaraz is tremendously fast. Tsitsipas, on the other hand, found after winning the match at the US Open that he had never seen anyone hit the ball as hard as Alcaraz.
There is only praise from the shooting star of the opposite sex: “He moves really gracefully, yes elegantly,” says Emma Raducanu, who is also only 19 years old. “When you see him, it looks like he’s flying through the air.”
Train early: The 10-year-old Alcaraz in 2014 at the “Open Super 12” in Auray, France.
image / PanoramaC
Comparison with Nadal? Alcaraz thinks more of Federer
He was born in Murcia in southeastern Spain and trained early and a lot. His father also had the goal of becoming a tennis professional at the time, but it was not enough. Alcaraz junior not only fulfills his own dreams today. There are also those from Alcaraz senior. Since he was 15, Carlos has had former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero as a coach by his side, who is patient and used to publicly praising his protégé: “No matter what surface he plays on, his level is always there,” he said. he. Ferrero half a year ago in an ATP interview. “It impressed me at first. And it still does.”
Ferrero won exactly one Grand Slam tournament in his career: the French Open 2003. It is there, in Paris, that his protégé starts for the second time next Monday. In 2021 he came to the 3rd round on his debut, this time some consider him to be a good considering his current form that Top favorite – ahead of the 13-time winner Nadal.
Clay is seen as potentially the strongest surface for Alcaraz, so the question arises: will he have a career similar to that of his famous compatriot? Such comparisons across generations do not help anyone, and Alcaraz does not want to hear them with Nadal. Not only because of the pressure: “My style is more or less Roger Federers,” the then 16-year-old stressed in early 2020, “came aggressively to the net and play a lot of stops”.
The stop balls, yes. In the first set of the Madrid final against Zverev, six out of six forehand stops resulted in a point for Alcaraz. Remember that the one-sided part of the fight came only afterwards.
head, heart, balls
Alcaraz brings the courage that some observers miss in the big moments at Zverev, at Tsitsipas and also at Daniil Medvedev. Alcaraz shows two positions over and over again these days and weeks: the bent upper arm with bent biceps, plus a grimly determined gaze. Sometimes he holds his index finger to his temple and signals: It all sits in his head.
The Spaniard likes to tell his grandfather that he always said: Cabeza, corazón, cojones – head, heart, balls – that’s what matters. Regardless of the score, you can always try a popping topspin on the line. And this seamless forehand stop always works anyway.
In the first set of the semi-final against Djokovic, Alcaraz faced two set balls against himself. It was 4: 6 in tie-break, the maximum pressure situation, when he – this time with his back hand – pulled a very demanding stop out of the hat and placed the ball’s longline directly behind the net. Since corazón and cojones played the larger role.
Opponents waited for the nerves to flutter – in vain
Slightly constructive for the competition: His biggest weakness of all things can be remedied through training: Alcaraz could use more serve variations, more direct service points, more aces. On the other hand, game intelligence, against what is already available in abundance, is hard to train.
In the beginning, his fights were like roller coaster rides. It happened that he lost a set 6-0 and ended up winning the match. As Alcaraz’s winning streak began in late autumn, opponents were waiting for nerves and inexperience to take hold at some point. Only: It did not happen. Alcaraz also wins the close matches. The ones you usually lose when you’re 19.
As a sophisticated computer program, he regularly makes the right decisions on the court and plays the right shots. While the generation of Zverev, Medvedev and Dominic Thiem struggled to take every single small step to the top of the world, Alcaraz did it far too soon. As if he could have just skipped three stages of development. As if someone entered a cheat code before hitting start in tennis swimming.
Without a doubt, things will not continue like this forever. Alcaraz will also undergo form downs, just like everyone else before him. With his extremely stable physique and psyche, he should be able to dampen the bumps in a tennis career.
“I think he will be in the top 10 in 2024,” Alexander Zverev said after clearly beating Alcaraz in Acapulco in March 2021, 6-3 and 6-1. “It certainly will not be the last time I play against him.”
As you know, the German was right with his last statement. With the other, he misjudged something. Because Alcaraz defeated him in Madrid (exactly: 6: 3 and 6: 1), the sixth in the world rankings is already in May 2022: Carlos Alcaraz. Sorry Carlitos.