Everyone knew the young Rafael Nadal was a great talent, but few expected him to win a Grand Slam title while still a teenager. Everyone knows Carlos Alcaraz is a great talent, but few expected him to win the US Open and become world No 1 while still a teenager – but that is exactly what the remarkable Spaniard has done.
By winning the US Open, Alcaraz has joined the Grand Slam roll of honour and gone to the top of the rankings at just 19 years and 129 days. Nadal won Roland Garros at 19 years and two days, but he was 22 before he became world No 1, which only enhances Alcaraz’s phenomenal achievement.
Ever since the former Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero decided to coach the 15-year-old Alcaraz, the tennis world has known it has a star in the making. With his Babolat Pure Aero racquet, the comparisons with Nadal were inevitable. Alcaraz even talks like the young Nadal used to.
Asked where he sees himself in 10 years, Carlos replies, “I hope to be fighting to win many Grand Slams and fighting to be No 1, to continue playing with the same enthusiasm as when I was 18 years old.”Asked where he sees himself in 10 years, Carlos replies, “I hope to be fighting to win many Grand Slams and fighting to be No 1, to continue playing with the same enthusiasm as when I was 18 years old.”
A short sentence that says a lot. “To win a lot of Grand Slams”; “fighting to be No 1”; “to keep playing with the same enthusiasm as when I was 18.” It sounds so like the young Rafa.
The next Rafa?
So is being compared to Nadal pressure or motivation? “Neither,” says Alcaraz. “I know that there will never be another like Rafa in history. I am Carlos.”
And already he is defining himself as a different player to Rafael Nadal. His willingness to come to the net is a big difference, and he smiles much more on court than the 22-time Grand Slam champion, often seeming to get a childlike enjoyment out of winning a dramatic point.
Young players frequently dream of playing their idol, and for Carlos Alcaraz he had the perfect 18th birthday present. He encounted Rafael Nadal on the Manolo Santana Centre Court at the Madrid Masters on 5 May 2021. He lost 6-1 6-2, but won a lot of credit in front of the great public of his country, to the astonishment of some.
After that victory, the elder Spaniard said, “I really believe Carlos is going to be able to progress quickly. He is a complete player. I mean, he’s brave, he’s able to go to the net very often, great forehand, great backhand.”
A recipe for success
And then the 14-time Roland Garros champion deploys the salad theory to explain even better who Carlos Alcaraz is and who Carlos Alcaraz can become.
“When you make a salad and you are putting ingredients inside the salad. Carlos has plenty of ingredients to become a great player. That’s the main thing.”
Alcaraz recalls signing his first contract with Babolat in 2013, when he was just 10 years old. He played for nine years with the same model, the Pure Aero, and in 2021 switched to the precision focused Pure Aero VS. “I wanted a little more control,” he says, “and I saw that this racquet had one more string and I wanted to try it. I liked it and decided to change. I like it a lot because the ball comes off the strings fast and at the same time I have confidence and control.”
And by the time he played Nadal at the 2022 Madrid Masters a year after his birthday match, Carlos was a US Open quarter-finalist and ready to beat the great man, 6-2 1-6 6-3. Since then he has been a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros and a champion at the US Open, making him the hottest young property in today’s tennis.
Asked what his favourite song is, he replies, “The Eye of the Tiger.” Enough said.