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No escape from Alcaraz: Why the teenage sensation could be the next big thing | French Open 2022

No escape from Alcaraz: Why the teenage sensation could be the next big thing | French Open 2022

For more than a decade, men’s tennis has been looking for new stars to follow the dominance of its big three: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. New generations have risen and fallen, waves of hype behind some promising young players have long erupted, while other hugely talented players have simply failed to live up to their dominance. Deep into their thirties, Nadal and Djokovic remained the surest bet to win most Grand Slam titles in recent years.

In the twilight of their careers, however, a new player arrived who positioned himself to be more successful than any before him, Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz. Ever since winning his first ATP challenger match at 15, Alcaraz has had his eyes on his tennis and expectations on his shoulders.

Alcaraz grew up in El Palmar, a district of Murcia in southern Spain, and he started playing tennis at Real Sociedad Club in Campo de Murcia where his father, Carlos Alcaraz González, was director of the academy. of tennis. Carlos Alcaraz Sr was a lowly professional himself, hitting a career high of 963 before retiring at just 20 due to a lack of funding. He cultivated a family of tennis players; Alcaraz’s 10-year-old brother, Jaime Alcaraz Garfia, is a promising young player in his own right who recently took part in the IMG Future Stars Under-12 tournament in Greece. He has two other siblings; Alvaro, his older brother and his younger brother Sergio.

In 2018, Alcaraz joined the JC Ferrero Equelite Sport Academy, where he continues to live and is coached by Juan Carlos Ferrero, the former Spanish world number 1 who won the French Open in 2003, just a month after Alcaraz was born and just before Federer and Nadal started dominating. With one of Spain’s greatest tennis players behind him, Alcaraz rose quickly.

At every age and at every stage of his young career, Alcaraz has stayed above the curve, setting age records or closely following many prodigious achievements set by a teenage Nadal. After becoming the youngest male US Open quarter-finalist of the Open era last year, Alcaraz came into the new season having transformed his physique, donning a sleeveless shirt at the Australian Open. to highlight his gains.

It took him to the next level. By winning the Miami Open, Alcaraz became the third youngest player to win a Masters 1000 event, the second most prestigious tournament tier behind Grand Slams, and last month he became the first player to beat Nadal and Djokovic back to back. clay on the way to winning the Madrid Open.

Carlos Alcaraz bites the trophy after winning the Madrid Open in May.
Carlos Alcaraz bites the trophy after winning the Madrid Open in May. Photograph: Paul White/AP

Spain’s King Felipe saw Alcaraz defeat Nadal in Madrid, after personally congratulating the teenager following his success in Miami. “I was more nervous [for] this call than the match,” Alcaraz said at the time. “It’s quite amazing that the King of Spain congratulates you for the hard work you do every day and your victory.”

Between those two Masters 1000 titles and two more third-tier ATP 500 victories, Alcaraz compiled a 30-3 record in 2022. After being ranked 133 at the start of last season, he is now the sixth player in the world at 19. . .

“He’s definitely special,” Djokovic said this month. “I mean he’s already breaking a lot of records as a teenager, you know, winning two Masters events this year, some 500. So far he’s the best player in the world, without a doubt, this year with the results he has obtained.

Its popularity naturally exploded. Following his triumph in Madrid, Alcaraz returned home to Murcia where a large crowd gathered outside his parents’ flat, leading him to step out onto the balcony and wave the trophy to the adoring fans below. He was invited to Spanish chatrooms and covered top magazines. Her Instagram account has surpassed 1.3 million and is still counting. His matches were already drawing notable crowds at the Australian Open in January, but in Paris, even his practices are the scene of frenzied audiences.

Carlos Alcaraz serves to Sebastian Korda in their third round match
Carlos Alcaraz serves to Sebastian Korda in their third round match. Photography: Yves Herman/Reuters

Alcaraz’s success comes from a game that is more explosive, dynamic and complete than most players of his age. He already has one of the most destructive and heaviest forehands in the game, while his drop shot, especially on his forehand side, is one of the focal points of his game.

His vast manual skills and shooting skills are bound by his supreme athleticism and defense, qualities that produced countless incredible points that further underscored his talents. Since his triumph in Madrid, the hype surrounding Alcaraz has gathered pace and he has arrived in Paris named by some bookmakers as the tournament favourite.

At Roland Garros, his tournament almost ended surprisingly early. In his second-round match against the smart and cunning Albert Ramos Viñolas he ended up with a match point on Ramos’ serve in the fourth set. Such is his penchant for big moments, he not only saved the match point, salvaged the break and took the fourth set, but then recovered from a 0-3 deficit in the fifth set. Somehow, even though he came close to losing to world number 44, his reputation grew.

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While Alcaraz may be the safest bet of all the young stars to emerge over the past decade, even now that he is a top 10 player, nothing is certain when injuries, turmoil Mental and other issues can creep into careers. There is no doubt, however, that he is on the right track, whether or not he realizes his grand slam ambition as early as this year’s Roland Garros.

“I’m still young, but I would say quite an experienced player now,” Alcaraz said. “I feel comfortable playing in big stadiums, big matches, playing Grand Slams. Physically I’m strong. Mentally I’m also strong. I think I’m ready to play those kind of matches in these situations, these tournaments. Then he shrugged, “I’m ready, yeah.”

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