Ten months ago, when Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, on his 18th birthday, played against his idol and arguably his country’s greatest ever tennis player Rafael Nadal for the first time in the second round of the Madrid Masters, Nadal decimated him to clinch a 6-1, 6-2 win in an hour and 18 minutes.
However, when the two countrymen face off again in the semifinals at Indian Wells on Saturday, it could very well be the generational battle everyone has been waiting for.
Since the defeat in Madrid, Alcaraz has taken giant strides. Born in El Palmar, a suburb of Murcia, Alcaraz has won two ATP tour titles -- a 250 event in Umag, Croatia, and a 500 one in Rio De Janeiro last month -- both coming on clay. He then lifted the Next Gen ATP Finals last November. Apart from these, he also made deep runs at US Open and Australian Open, which has ultimately helped him climb up from world number 120 to world number 19 in less than a year.
Coached by Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former world number one from Spain, right-handed Alcaraz has an explosive style of play and his quick movement on the court has often drawn comparisons with a younger Nadal. Alcaraz is six foot one inch tall, the same height as Nadal and lately, his match outfits, sleeveless tops, are a reminder of the younger self of the 21-time Grand Slam champion from Mallorca.
As far as 35-year-old Nadal’s current form is concerned, it is hard to believe that he is yet to be beaten this year considering where he was just a few months ago. Muller-Weiss Syndrome, a chronic foot problem that Nadal suffers from, severely restricted his movement during his epic French Open semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic last year. He skipped Wimbledon and Tokyo Olympics before attempting a return to the court in Washington but the pain didn’t allow him to play the US Open, bringing a premature end to his 2021 season. He was on crutches and getting a new treatment to somehow prolong his career for a few more years.
Three months into 2022, Nadal is on a 19-match unbeaten streak, his best-ever start to a season, during which he has won titles in Melbourne, Acapulco and a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title after coming back from two sets down in the Australian Open final against Daniil Medvedev.
Even though the foot has been troubling him again at Indian Wells, possibly playing a role in him withdrawing from the upcoming Miami Masters, Nadal has managed it well enough to get over the line.
Alcaraz, who became the second-youngest semifinalist at Indian Wells after beating defending champion Cameron Norrie of Great Britain 6-4, 6-3, is ready for the challenge against Nadal. "It's tough to play against Rafa but at the same time I will enjoy the moment, I will enjoy the match," Alcaraz told atptour.com
He added, “It's not every day you play against your idol. I'm going to be happy even if I lose that match. but I am focused right now to play my best against Rafa and be able to take my chances."
Nadal, too, was full of praise for Alcaraz after beating Nick Kyrgios in three sets in his quarterfinal. In the post-match press conference, Nadal said, “I think he will be unstoppable in terms of his career. He has all the ingredients. He has the passion. He’s humble enough to work hard. He’s a good guy. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was 17 or 18-years-old. I think he has the passion. He has the talent and the physical components.”
The stage is set for a thrilling final four clash between the master and the apprentice.