In a year of one of Carlos Alcaraz’s first memorable events, the 19-year-old Spaniard has transformed himself from just another fresh face with massive potential into a real threat on the men’s tour and a favorite at the French Open.
His meteoric rise at 12 months was underlined by becoming the youngest ATP 500 champion in history at the age of 18 and the youngest player to outlast both Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the same clay court event.
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Last year, Alcaraz celebrated his 18th birthday with a match against his idol Nadal in Madrid, but the dream scenario quickly turned into a nightmare when the 13-times French Open champion broke it down 6-1 6-2 in just 78 minutes.
But this year, Alcaraz was better prepared and the change was evident as the teenager proved to be physically stronger and showed maturity beyond his years at crucial moments.
He celebrated his 19th birthday in a turbulent week in Madrid by defeating three of the top five – Nadal, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev – en route to his second Masters title despite an ankle injury.
“I saw that the last time a player beat the top four in a row in three matches was (David) Nalbandian in 2007. Of course (that gives me a lot of confidence),” Alcaraz said.
However, this feat feels more like a sign of things to come rather than just a quick nod to the men’s tour.
world number six
Alcaraz ranked 120 a year ago, now number 6 in the world, and one place behind Nadal ahead of the French Open – the first Grand Slam Nadal won in 2005 when he was a hungry 19-year-old.
Comparisons between the Spaniards were inevitable when Alcaraz began dominating the clay courts before continuing to tame the hard courts during the US swing earlier this year.
Nadal may not be ready to pass the torch just yet, but he has prepared for the future of Spanish tennis and put an arm around Alcaraz, not only to encourage him but also to protect him from the media frenzy.
“If he is able to win 25 Grand Slams, that would be great for him and our country, and I would be happy for him. But let him enjoy his personal career,” Nadal warned. “Don’t put pressure on him any longer.”
The dominance of the “Big Three” in men’s tennis has lasted longer than expected, with the rising contenders proving to be nothing more than one-time winners but there is a real belief that Alcaraz can turn that around.
“He’s definitely special… (at) Roland Garros, he’s definitely one of the main candidates, no doubt, even though he never made it to the second week of a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said when losing the world number one in Madrid.
Grand Slam champion Daniel Medvedev and Dominic Thiem looked rusty when they came back from injury, while Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas couldn’t turn titles into Grand Slam success, often withering under the weight of expectations.
But Alcaraz is keen to prove his strength.
“People think I’ll be one of the favorites to win the Roland Garros, but I’ve always said I have a different point of view,” Alcaraz said after his dream in Madrid.
“I don’t have stress, I have motivation.”
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