Rafa Nadal's bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title may be hogging the Australian Open spotlight but another Spaniard is quietly plotting his own assault on the title at the tender age of 18.
Next Gen ATP Finals champion Carlos Alcaraz moved into the third round on Wednesday with a 6-2 6-1 7-5 demolition of seasoned Serb Dusan Lajovic at the 1573 Arena, setting up a mouthwatering clash with seventh seed Matteo Berrettini.
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In a sport dominated in recent years by thirty-somethings like Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Alcaraz is planting the Gen Z flag and having older, would-be Grand Slam contenders looking nervously over their shoulders.
A 141st-ranked qualifier at last year's Australian Open, Alcaraz has come a long way in a hurry, his 2021 season laden with impressive milestones.
The year included his maiden ATP title on clay at Umag, Croatia, a main draw debut at Wimbledon and a sensational quarter-final run at the U.S. Open only stopped by a thigh injury.
"Reminds me of Rafa a bit," said world number 39 Lajovic.
"He will contend for the biggest title soon."
Now seeded 31st at Melbourne Park, he is the youngest seed at a Grand Slam since Michael Chang at the 1990 U.S. Open.
His third round clash against Italian Berrettini will be new territory for the Spaniard in Melbourne, having fallen in the second round on debut last year.
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However, Berrettini, who beat American wildcard Stefan Kozlov in four sets on Wednesday, is a familiar opponent.
Alcaraz upset the Wimbledon finalist in three sets in Vienna in October, the second biggest win of his career after stunning Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round at the U.S. Open.
"I know the way that Matteo is playing. I know him," said Alcaraz, who is coached by former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero.
"I think I grew up since that match."