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Monday, June 17, 2024

Alcaraz threatens to upend established order in tennis

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PARIS—Few players have rivaled Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic over the past two decades, but Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz threatens to upend tennis’ established order after a dizzying rise to stardom.

Alcaraz, who only turned 19 last Thursday, became the first player to beat Nadal and Djokovic on clay at the same tournament on his way to a second Masters 1000 title in Madrid.

Seemingly preordained for greatness, Alcaraz has so far delivered on the promise, described by beaten finalist Alexander Zverev as “right now the best player in the world”.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz (left) celebrates with Germany’s Alexander Zverev after winning the 2022 ATP Tour Madrid Open tennis tournament men’s singles final match at the Caja Magica in Madrid. AFP

He became the youngest US Open quarter-finalist of the Open era last September, then won his first Masters crown in Miami in early April. Only Nadal has won two such titles at a younger age.

“I would say this is the best week of my life,” Alcaraz said on Sunday, before pulling out of Rome to rest a sore ankle ahead of the French Open which begins on May 22.

Coached by former world number one and 2003 Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz knows he has some way to go.

“I still have to improve in everything,” he said. “I have very good shots, but they can be improved and can be much better.”

Alcaraz was born in 2003, barely two months before Federer won his first major title at Wimbledon.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is his compatriot Nadal—the record 21-time Grand Slam champion—he most admires.

“I have always looked up to Rafa, I always watched his big moments and matches and learned a lot from that,” said Alcaraz, who received a congratulatory call from Spain’s King Felipe VI after his Miami triumph.

A year ago Alcaraz sat 120th when he made his Madrid debut. Fast-forward 12 months and the hottest young prospect in men’s tennis has soared to a career-best sixth.

His four singles titles are the most on the ATP tour this year, as are his 28 match wins.

“It is great for tennis that we have such a new superstar that is going to win so many Grand Slams, that is going to be world number one,” said Zverev.


Stefanos Tsitsipas, last year’s French Open runner-up, marvels at Alcaraz’s polished, all-round game, acutely aware he is another significant obstacle in his own quest for Grand Slam glory.

“He inspires me a lot. I really want to be like him. I look up to him,” said the 23-year-old Tsitsipas, at the forefront of the generation poised to take over from the “Big Three”.

“I know he’s at a young, early stage of his career. I can see him becoming big in a very short time. I’d really like to get to the level he is right now. I think he’s one of the best players in the world.”

Tsitsipas suggested the furore over Alcaraz might rankle some of the sport’s elder statesman, but Nadal insisted he was pleased for his fellow countryman.

“Everybody knows the amount of confidence he has right now, the level that he can reach. I’m happy for him,” said Nadal, who won his first major at Roland Garros in 2005, two days after his 19th birthday.

“Happy because we have an amazing player in our country for a lot of years to come.”

On Monday in Rome, world number one Djokovic joined the chorus of praise.

“He’s different, for sure,” said the Serbian. “So far he’s the best player in the world, no question, this year.

“For Roland Garros, he is definitely one of the big favourites.”

Nadal said it was natural that Alcaraz was attracting attention.

“He is young, he is new, and all the new things are much more interesting than older things, without a doubt,” said Nadal.

“When you see a new car, always looks better. When you see a new phone, always looks better than the old one. It’s something that it’s normal in this life. I can’t complain at all about that.”


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