French Open 2022: Why Carlos Alcaraz could join the rank of greats
- In recent years, Nadal and Djokovic have remained the safest bets to win the majority of grand slam titles
- In the last leg of their careers, Carlos Alcaraz has arisen to challenge
- Here is why he could join the ranks of the greats soon
Men's tennis has been looking for fresh stars to replace the big three: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer, for almost a decade. New generations have come and gone, and the enthusiasm around certain bright young stars has long faded, while some exceptionally brilliant players have simply failed to match their dominance. In recent years, Nadal and Djokovic, both in their 30s, have remained the safest bets to win the majority of grand slam titles.
In the last leg of their careers, however, a new player, the Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz, has arisen who has positioned himself to achieve more than any other before him. Alcaraz has had eyes on him and expectations on his shoulders since he won his first ATP challenger match at the age of 15.
Alcaraz grew up in El Palmar, a Murcia neighbourhood, and began playing tennis at the Real Sociedad Club de Campo de Murcia, where his father, Carlos Alcaraz González, was the head of the tennis academy.
Carlos Alcaraz Sr. himself was a middling professional, earning a career high of 963 before resigning at the age of 20 owing to a lack of funds. Alcaraz comes from a tennis-playing family; his 10-year-old brother, Jaime Alcaraz Garfia, is a potential young player in his own right, having recently competed in the IMG Future Stars under-12 event in Greece. He has two additional brothers, Alvaro, his older brother, and Sergio, his younger brother.
Alcaraz relocated to the JC Ferrero Equelite Sport Academy in 2018, where he still lives and is trained by Juan Carlos Ferrero, the Spanish former world No. 1 who won the French Open in 2003, barely a month after Alcaraz was born and before Federer and Nadal began to dominate. Alcaraz has advanced swiftly thanks to the support of one of Spain's top tennis players.
At every age and stage of his short career, Alcaraz has remained above the curve, setting age records outright or trailing several of Nadal's extraordinary exploits. Alcaraz entered the new season having altered his physique after being the youngest US Open men's quarter-finalist in the Open era last year, wearing a sleeveless shirt at the Australian Open to emphasise his improvements.
It has propelled him to the next level. Alcaraz became the third-youngest player to win a Masters 1000 event, the second most prestigious tier of tournaments after grand slams, by winning the Miami Open, and last month he became the first player to beat Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back on clay en route to winning the Madrid Open.
After personally congratulating Alcaraz on his win in Miami, King Felipe of Spain saw Alcaraz overcome Nadal in Madrid. "I was more nervous [for] that call than the match," Alcaraz admitted at the time. "It’s pretty amazing that the Spanish king congratulates you on the hard work that you put in every day and your win."
Alcaraz has a 30-3 record in 2022 after winning two Masters 1000 titles and two other third-tier ATP 500 titles. He was ranked 133 at the start of last season and is now ranked sixth in the world at 19.
“He definitely is special,” Djokovic said earlier this month. “I mean, already he’s breaking a lot of records as a teenager, you know, winning two Masters events this year, a couple of 500s. So far he’s the best player in the world, no question, this year with the results that he’s been doing.”
Naturally, his popularity has skyrocketed. Following his victory in Madrid, Alcaraz returned to Murcia, where a large crowd gathered outside his parents' apartment, prompting him to come out onto the balcony and display the trophy to adoring supporters below.
He has been on Spanish talk shows and in major magazines. His Instagram followers have surpassed 1.3 million and are still growing. His matches were already drawing large numbers in the Australian Open in January, but in Paris, even his practises are drawing large crowds.
Alcaraz's success can be attributed to a game that is more explosive, dynamic, and complete than that of other players his age. He already boasts one of the most powerful and heavy forehands in the game, and his drop shot, especially on his forehand side, is a key component of his game.
His enormous hand skills and shotmaking abilities are linked by his superlative athleticism and defence, attributes that have resulted in numerous fantastic points that have highlighted his abilities. Since his victory in Madrid, Alcaraz's popularity has skyrocketed, and he arrived in Paris as the tournament favourite, according to some bookmakers.
His tournament at Roland Garros nearly ended unexpectedly early. In his second-round match against the astute, cunning Albert Ramos Violas, he found himself match-point down in the fourth set on Ramos' serve. He not only saved the match point, returned the break, and won the fourth set, but he also came back from a 0-3 hole in the fifth set, demonstrating his penchant for big moments. Despite nearly losing to world No. 44, his reputation grew.
While Alcaraz may be the safest bet among all young players to emerge in the last decade, nothing is certain when injuries, mental strain, and other concerns can impose themselves on careers. There is no doubt that he is on the right track, regardless of whether he achieves his grand slam goal as soon as this year's French Open.
“I’m still young, but I would say pretty experienced player now,” said Alcaraz. “I feel comfortable playing on big stadium, big matches, playing on grand slam. Physically I’m strong. Mentally I’m strong, as well. I think I’m ready to play these kind of matches in these situations, these tournaments.” He then shrugged and concluded. “I’m ready, yeah.”