Carlos Alcaraz: Road to becoming World No.1
The Spanish national became the second-youngest player to peak in the men’s World rankings.
There’s a common prelude that sports writers often lazily repeat to describe child prodigies. Like, what were you doing in your teens? See, this teenage star who has made the world stop and watch him.
It’s a disgrace. Both to the athlete and the common man. For the athlete, he is special and comparing him to someone, not from his fraternity doesn’t do justice to him or his talent. For the common man, it’s insulting to be compared to someone who’s from an entirely different walk of life. There’s pity at one end and jealousy at the other.
So, let’s just appreciate and admire Carlos Alcaraz. This 19-year-old beat Casper Ruud to win the US Open title. Routine sports headline, what’s new?
Alcaraz’s victory made him the youngest Grand Slam winner since Rafael Nadal at the 2005 French Open and the youngest to win the US Open since Pete Sampras in 1990. With his US Open title, he also became the youngest man (rather a boy) to scale the top of the rankings.
This was Alcaraz’s fifth title win this year. He picked up the Masters trophies in Miami, Madrid, Rio and Barcelona before creating history at the US Open. His power and prowess were noted by the tennis world in Madrid itself. He became the first man to defeat Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the same clay court event in the capital of Spain.
“When he arrived at the academy when he was 15, he was like spaghetti, very thin. We had to work,” coach Juan Carlos Ferrero quoted to AFP. Ferrero has been training Alcaraz since he was fifteen. Alcaraz broke into the elite list of Spanish tennis players who have been crowned the numero uno title. It includes his coach Ferrero himself, Carlos Moya and Rafael Nadal only.
Rising through the ranks at a young age
Alcaraz qualified for the Australian Open 2021 when he was merely 17 years old. This feat made him the youngest singles player in Australian Open history. Alcaraz reached the US Open 2021 men’s last-eight stage as the youngest quarterfinalist since the 18-year-old Thomaz Koch in 1963.
By the virtue of it, he also became the youngest Grand Slam men’s singles quarterfinalist since 18-year-old Michael Chang at the 1990 French Open. Then, after hurting his leg in the second set of the quarterfinal match against Félix Auger-Aliassime, he forfeited the match. His continuous improvement is also reflected in his meteoric rise in the ranking charts. He broke into the top 35 list by the end of 2021.
Alcaraz began the year 2022 as No. 32 in the rankings, but he catapulted himself into the top 10 after winning the Rio Open, Miami Open, Barcelona Open, and Madrid Open. And it was at the US Open 2022 that the ascendency to the peak was well and truly completed.
If you would be wondering why Alcaraz looks up to his countryman Nadal, then you will be surprised to know that he idolises Roger Federer. Post his US Open triumph, the world of the internet pulled out an old video in which the twelve-year-old Alcaraz is seen expressing fandom for Roger Federer.
A target of 30 Grand Slam titles
Alcaraz’s game seems around from all aspects. There’s no visible weakness. And it’s also too early for his opponents to find out a chink in his armoury and then cave out a hole. What stands out is that he fights for every point. There’s hardly an easy point for his opponents. A Nadalesque tinge is evident in Alcaraz’s flavour as well.
More back and forths also mean the matches often last longer than usual. In Madrid, Alcaraz played for a record-breaking 23 hours, 39 minutes. During the competition, he broke the Grand Slam records held by Kevin Anderson in the 2018 Wimbledon and Andy Murray at the 2012 US Open, who both spent 23 hours, 20 minutes and 21 hours, 51 minutes respectively on the court.
Another perspective that can be gained from Alcaraz’s marathon approach is that he is not yet equipped with the killer instinct. Of course, it’s a bit too much to expect from someone who has turned pro only in 2018. He has to adapt both; the finishing finesse and the weight of expectations that he will be burdened by!
The El Palmar-born player can be the next star that the world of tennis is yearning for. His coach Ferrero has set the barrier rather high. He wants (not wishes) his trainee to win as many as 30 grand slams.
Alcaraz’s father was a semi-pro tennis player himself. Ferrero is like his second father, that’s what Alcaraz perceives. Apart from getting ‘elder-brother’ love from Nadal, there’s some sort of bond brewing with Novak Djokovic as well. The Serbian joined Nadal in wishing Alcaraz his US Open triumph. The environment is just fertile for this seedling to grow!