Tennis, Carlitos way: Carlos Alcaraz, rise of the Spanish sensation

When the latest ATP Rankings are released on Monday, teenager Carlos Alcaraz is set to become the youngest player since Nadal in 2005 to enter the top 10.

If Alcaraz turns out to be a blend between Federer’s flair and Nadal’s “never give up” spirit, no one would really mind.   -  Getty Images

Born in El Palmar, a suburb of Murcia in Spain, Carlos Alcaraz will turn 19 in 10 days. While emergence of teen prodigies in tennis is not new, Alcaraz’s achievements and his meteoric rise in the ATP Rankings have got the sporting world excited about the possibility of a future star.

Fondly called ‘Carlitos’, Alcaraz was born to Virginia and Carlos on May 5, 2003. He was introduced to tennis at the age of four.

Coached by countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero, who won the French Open and also became World No. 1, Alcaraz trains at the JC Ferrero Equelite Sport Academy in Villena.

 

He turned pro in 2018. Still three months shy of turning 17, Alcaraz made his ATP Tour main draw debut at the ATP500 event in Rio de Janeiro in 2020 as a wildcard. World number 406 Alcaraz beat much-experienced fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas (then world number 41) 7-6(2), 4-6, 7-6(2) in the opening round before going down to Argentina’s Federico Coria in three sets in the second.

READ: Alcaraz to face Carreno Busta in Barcelona Open final

Why Alcaraz is a special talent?

Consistent performances on the Challenger Tour helped Alcaraz end 2020 among the world’s top 150 players.

In 2021, Alcaraz turned it up a notch. He made his debut at all four Grand Slams, Masters1000 events and also clinched his first ATP Tour title - on clay in Umag, Croatia. He also won the year-end Next Gen Finals in Milan, a tournament played between some of the most promising youngsters on tour in November. He could have even made his Davis Cup debut, but tested positive for Covid-19.

However, what possibly presented the case of Alcaraz being special had already happened at the US Open in September. While teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez were causing one upset after the other on the women’s side, Alcaraz was writing his story on the men’s side.

After beating British Cameron Norrie and France’s Arthur Rinderknech in the first two rounds in New York, the flamboyant Spaniard was up against the then world number three and French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in the third round.

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Alcaraz with coach Juan Carlos Ferrero   -  Getty Images

 

Striking hard and pushing the limits of his retrieving skills, Alcaraz stunned the Greek taking a 2 sets to 1 lead. Tsitsipas regrouped and then crushed his opponent 6-0 in the fourth set. The deciding set was where Alcaraz showed his mental strength. Despite needing treatment on his legs and lower back,  he fought hard and eventually won the match in the tiebreaker.

After the defeat, Tsitsipas had said, “He can be a contender for Grand Slam titles. He has the game to be there."

Come 2022, Alcaraz was seeded 31st at the Australian Open, the first time he was seeded at a Grand Slam. And he was ready for it too. Six-foot-one-inch tall with bulging biceps coming out of the sleeveless tops he was wearing in Melbourne, it showed the amount of hard work he had put in the off-season. He came from two sets down to square things up against Italian star Matteo Berrettini in the third-round match, but lost agonisingly in the fifth-set tiebreak.

READ: Indian Wells: Nadal vs Alcaraz - a battle of the present versus future

Two weeks after the disappointment in Melbourne, Alcaraz had his revenge in Rio as he beat Berrettini in the quarterfinals on his way to becoming the youngest ATP500 champion. Only two years ago, he had played his first ATP Tour main draw match at the same venue.

He followed it up with an impressive semifinal finish at Indian Wells Masters where he lost a gruelling three-set match against countryman and 21-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in what many termed as a “generational battle.”

Alcaraz ended his hard court season in record-breaking fashion as he became the youngest Miami Masters winner. Overall, he is the third-youngest Masters1000 champion and the first Spanish man to win the title in Miami.

 

Alcaraz’s style of play

Right-handed Alcaraz’s explosive game style, which includes a killer drop shot and tremendous court coverage, reminds people of a young Nadal. Even in his bio on atptour.com, the youngster lists Nadal as his idol. When the latest ATP Rankings are released on Monday, he is set to become the youngest player since Nadal in 2005 to enter the top 10. What’s more, it will be on the same date (April 25) as Nadal and after the same event (Barcelona Open).

Alcaraz has modelled his game after Nadal’s Swiss rival Roger Federer. In an interview with Tennis TV before his ATP Tour debut against Ramos-Vinolas, Alcaraz said, "I like to play aggressively with a lot of winners. My style is more or less like Federer's, aggressively coming to the net and playing drop shots, trying to do what Federer does."

If Alcaraz turns out to be a blend between Federer’s flair and Nadal’s “never give up” spirit, no one would really mind.

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