Carlos Alcaraz: Inside the meteoric rise of a 19-year-old French Open contender

On July 6, 2003, the day after Alcaraz was two months old, Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, ushering in an era in which the Big Three have won 61 of the last 74 Grand Slams.

At the time, various players were referred to as the “next generation” in men’s tennis; in 2015 it was Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic; in 2019 – Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas; in 2022 it is Carlos Alcaraz.

So far, no one from this “next generation” has challenged the dominance of the “big three”, although there is something special about Alcaraz that has not been seen since the exploits of his compatriot Nadal.

Like Nadal, Alcaraz entered the top 10 for the first time since winning the Barcelona Open at the age of 18. He is also the youngest person since Nadal to enter the top 10 and win the ATP 1000 title.

“All of these greatest players of all time…were already great as teenagers or showed flashes of their brilliance as teenagers,” said tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg. CNN Sports.

Changing goalposts

After winning the Miami Open in April, Alcaraz outlined his relatively modest goals for 2022 to CNN’s Don Riddell – to break into the top 10 of the world rankings and reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament.

Just three weeks later, Alcaraz entered the top 10 after winning the Barcelona Open.

French Open: Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek - tennis players & # 39;  rising stars

Two weeks after Barcelona, ​​Alcaraz won his fourth title in 2022 at the Madrid Open, defeating Nadal and Djokovic en route to the final.

So far this year he has amassed a remarkable 90% win rate – a percentage that rises to 94% on clay.

After these victories and a meteoric rise to the top of the sport, Alcaraz refocused his goals for the year.

“I’d say I’m one of the favorites to win Roland Garros,” Alcaraz told CNN.

“There are a lot of great players there – Rafa, Djokovic, the best players in the world will play there, but I think I’m ready to show a good result at Roland Garros.

Alcaraz won the Madrid Open earlier this month.

If Alcaraz is to win his first Grand Slam at Roland Garros, he’s going to have a tough road ahead as the 19-year-old is in the same half of the draw as Nadal and Djokovic.

However, Alcaraz’s team is optimistic.

“Carlos will get where he wants to go,” Alcaraz fitness trainer Alberto Lledo told CNN Sport.

“If he sets a goal for himself and continues to work with the same dedication that he has until now, he can achieve it.”

Sharing special moments

Alcaraz’s rise to become one of the favorites of Roland Garros began in his hometown of El Palmar on the outskirts of Murcia, where, at age 11, his talent was noticed by his current agent, Albert Molina.

Four years later, Juan Carlos Ferrero is a former world number one. 1 and runner-up at the French Open – started coaching the youngster.

Their close relationship was evident at the Miami Open, where Ferrero was absent for most of the tournament because his father had passed away.

“This is for Juanca. Victory is yours,” Alcaraz wrote in Spanish to the camera lens after winning the semi-finals.

As soon as Alcaraz reached the final, Ferrero flew to Florida to surprise and support his young ward.

Ferrero reached the final of the French Open in 2002.

“It is very important for me to be able to share this special moment with him,” said Alcaraz.

“He went through a difficult moment right now. He left his family for a couple of days to stay with me and it’s so good for me.”

Ferrero and the rest of Alcaraz’s team have instilled a mentality that emphasizes the importance of perseverance and hard work—a “culture of effort,” as his physiotherapist Juanjo Moreno calls it.

As is often the case with young athletes, Alcaraz’s breakthrough to the top sporting level seems to have come overnight after huge off-season improvements. In fact, according to Moreno, the opposite is true.

“We had a long pre-season this year so we were able to focus more on developing his fitness, but the change in fitness is the result of Carlos’ long hard work, changing his work, rest and diet habits.” Moreno said.

The key to success

This “culture of effort” is also evident in Alcaraz’s on-court performances.

His athleticism is at the core of his game, allowing him to land aggressive ground shots and defend defiantly from all sides of the court.

“I think I go to every match and every moment,” Alcaraz said. “I’m not afraid of anything, I don’t mind if I play against any player in the world.”

It is this consistency in all areas of the game that seems to be the key to his success.

He does not have one overwhelming strength, such as an unusually powerful serve that can be neutralized by certain tactics, and he does not have a clear weakness.

Alcaraz is in its second full season on the ATP Tour.

“He’s an incredibly accomplished, all-round player for such a young man, and he can do anything,” Rothenberg said.

“He seems to be very sharp tactically, he has a very good tennis IQ, and he’s also great physically.”

For Lledo, it is Alcaraz’s mentality and “the personality he shows in difficult moments, his way of facing them” that makes him stand out as a special talent.

For example, in his quarter-final match against Nadal at the Madrid Open, Alcaraz went down 6-1 in the second set but still rallied to win the match while he won 6-7 (5) 7-5 7-6 (5) victory over Djokovic in the semi-finals.

Along with Alcaraz’s amazing talent on the court, he has a touch of charm and a big smile that endears him to the public wherever he plays.

“No one really can say a bad word about [him]”, Rotenberg said.

“Another Star Is Born”

With every championship Alcaraz wins, the media hype around him grows louder as men’s tennis yearns for a new storyline and a new star.

Back in Spain, the country’s sports papers hailed their new all-conquering hero after his victory at the Madrid Open.

Simona Halep:

“Charlie, you’re amazing,” read the Marca headline; El País stated that “another star was born” and the front page of AS simply read “Blessed” in front of a photo of Zverev dousing Alcaraz with champagne.

Alcaraz himself seems to avoid much of this coverage.

“A lot of people looked at me congratulating me,” Alcaraz told CNN after his victory in Miami.

“Social media is booming right now and I haven’t had time to read everything yet, but it’s amazing that so many people and newspapers are talking about you.”

Alcaraz became a huge star in his home country.

As for overthrowing the regime that has ruled men’s tennis for the past two decades, Alcaraz doesn’t want to position himself as a revolutionary heralding a new era.

“I’m lucky that I learned from these guys [Nadal, Federer and Djokovic] so close—sharing a locker room, sharing courts,” he said. “Hopefully I will watch them for years to come.”

But no matter how long the Big Three can continue their illustrious careers, Roland Garros could be the first real challenge to the established order in men’s tennis in a long time.