New Delhi: On his 18th birthday in 2021, Carlos Alcaraz lost to one of his tennis idols, Rafael Nadal, in straight sets at the Madrid Open. The tournament was significant for Nadal’s fellow Spaniard Alcaraz, because it was in Madrid that he first started watching tennis, and found inspiration in the legend.
Nadal was ruthless as usual, conceding only three games before sending the teenager packing.
A year later, the tables have turned, and how. Alcaraz, now 19, has not only defeated Nadal, but also world No.1 Novak Djokovic and world No.3 Alexander Zverev to lift the Madrid Open trophy, becoming its youngest champion. And this has catapulted him to the status of one of the favourites for the French Open Grand Slam tournament, which begins next week.
Alcaraz is not a complete flash in the pan. Standing at 6’1″, he has been making waves for a while, and is already ranked sixth in the world in men’s tennis. His shots are crisp and come booming down the baseline from either end, but he also has the skill of a delicate drop shot, often cleverly disguised, which he used often against both Nadal and Zverev to secure victory.
Though he admires Nadal a great deal, it is Roger Federer’s photo that he has pinned up in his room.
ThePrint takes a look at his journey so far.
Praise from the greats
When he beat Nadal by a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 margin, Alcaraz became the first teenager to have defeated the legend on clay.
“It’s hard to put into words my emotions after today’s match but I can say that it was one of the best moments of my life, something I will never forget. It’s always a pleasure to play against Rafael Nadal,” he posted on Instagram Saturday.
His Madrid Open win is being hailed by all the top players, especially those he defeated along the way.
While Djokovic said “great things” can be expected from the 19-year-old, Nadal congratulated him on his win, and Zverev, whom he defeated in the final, said he was the best player in the world right now.
Breaking record after record
Alcaraz, who hails from Murcia, Spain, made his ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) debut at the age of 15 in 2018, and since then has been breaking one record after another. In January this year, he became the youngest player to be seeded in a Grand Slam tournament since 1990, a feat he achieved earlier than Federer, Djokovic or Nadal.
In September 2021, he won his first ATP tour tournament, defeating Richard Gasquet straight sets (6-2, 6-2) in the Croatia Open in Umag. Alcaraz was the youngest player to reach an ATP final since 2008. After the match, Gasquet, a regular on tour, said he was playing “unbelievable” tennis.
A few months later, Alcaraz caused another high-profile upset at the US Open, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas and became the youngest player to make it to the fourth round at a major since 1992. A New York Times headline read: ‘In tennis, Carlos Alcaraz is about to cause a big commotion’.
His coach, fellow Spaniard and former world no. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, believes that the goal is to not be in a rush, and be patient in matches.
“The key this year is to keep working well and not think for a moment that the hard work is already done… But knowing Carlos and the values he and his family have, I’d be very surprised if he lets success go to his head,” Ferrero had said in a January interview to The New York Times.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)