On July 6, 2003, the day after Alcaraz turned two months old, Federer won his first grand slam title at Wimbledon, beginning an era in which the “Big Three” triumphed in 61 of the past 74 grand slam tournaments.
During that time, several players have been heralded as the “next generation” in men’s tennis; in 2015 it was Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic; in 2019 it was Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas; in 2022 it will be Carlos Alcaraz.
So far, none of this ‘next generation’ has consistently challenged the dominance of the ‘Big Three’, although there is something else going on with Alcaraz – something not seen since the exploits of his compatriot Nadal.
Like Nadal, Alcaraz entered the top 10 for the first time after winning the Barcelona Open as an 18-year-old. He is also the youngest man since Nadal to enter the top 10 and win an ATP 1000 title.
Changing the Goal Posts
After winning the Miami Open in April, Alcaraz outlined his relatively modest 2022 goals to DailyExpertNews’s Don Riddell: break into the top 10 of the world rankings and reach the quarterfinals of a grand slam.
Just three weeks later, Alcaraz entered the top 10 after winning the Barcelona Open.
Two weeks after Barcelona, Alcaraz won his fourth title of 2022 at the Madrid Open, beating Nadal and Djokovic on his way to the final.
So far this year he has achieved a remarkable 90% win rate, rising to 94% on clay courts.
After these victories and his meteoric rise to the top of the sport, Alcaraz refocused his goals for the year.
“I would say I am one of the favorite players to win Roland Garros,” Alcaraz told DailyExpertNews.
“There are a lot of great players – Rafa, Djokovic, the best players in the world are going to play there, but I think I’m ready to get a good result at Roland Garros.”
If Alcaraz is to win his first grand slam at Roland Garros, he will have to do it the hard way, as the 18-year-old is in the same half of the draw as both Nadal and Djokovic.
Nevertheless, the Alcaraz team remains optimistic.
“Carlos will reach wherever he wants,” Alcaraz’s fitness coach Alberto Lledó told DailyExpertNews Sport.
“If he pursues a goal and continues to work with the same dedication as he has until now, he will be able to achieve it.”
Share special moments
Alcaraz’s ascent to one of the favorites at Roland Garros started in his hometown of El Palmar on the outskirts of Murcia, where he was spotted by his current agent Albert Molina at the age of 11.
Four years later, Juan Carlos Ferrero — a former world No. 1 and runner-up at the French Open — began coaching the youngster.
Their close relationship became apparent during the Miami Open, where Ferrero was absent for much of the tournament due to his father’s death.
“This is for Juanki. The victory is for you,” Alcaraz wrote in Spanish on a camera lens after his semi-final victory.
When Alcaraz reached the final, Ferrero flew to Florida to surprise and support his young charge.
“It means a lot to me to be able to share this special moment for me with him,” said Alcaraz.
“He’s been going through a rough time at the moment. He’s been away from his family for a few days to stay with me and that’s so good for me.”
Ferrero and the rest of the Alcaraz team have instilled a mindset that emphasizes the importance of perseverance and hard work – “a culture of effort”, as his physiotherapist Juanjo Moreno calls it.
As is often the case with young athletes, Alcaraz’s breakthrough at the highest level of the sport seems to happen overnight after huge improvements during the off-season. In fact, according to Moreno, the opposite is true.
“This year we had a long preseason so we have been able to focus further on his fitness development, but the fitness change is the result of Carlos’s hard work over a long time, changing his habits of work, rest and diet,” he said. Moreno.
The key to success
This “culture of effort” also translates into Alcaraz’s performance on the pitch.
His athleticism is the foundation of his game, allowing him to unleash aggressive bases and daringly defend from all parts of the field.
“I think I’m going for every game and every moment,” said Alcaraz. “I’m not afraid of anything, I don’t mind if I play against any player in the world.”
It is this consistency in all parts of the game that seems to be the key to its success.
He doesn’t have one overwhelming strength – such as an extraordinarily powerful serve – that can be neutralized by specific tactics, nor does he have any apparent weakness.
“He’s an incredibly complete, versatile player for someone so young and he can do it all,” Rothenberg said.
“He seems very sharp tactically, he has a very good tennis IQ and physically he has been great as well.”
For Lledó, it is Alcaraz’s mentality and “the personality he shows in the difficult moments, his way of coping with them” that characterize him as a special talent.
For example, in his quarterfinal against Nadal at the Madrid Open, Alcaraz was outclassed 6-1 in the second set, but he nevertheless rallied to win the match, taking a 6-7 (5) 7-5 7- 6(5) victory against Djokovic in the semifinals.
In addition to Alcaraz’s prodigious talent on the pitch, he has an easygoing charm and broad grin that endear him to the crowd wherever he plays.
“Nobody really has a bad word about it” [him]Rothenberg said.
‘Another star born’
With each championship Alcaraz wins, the media hype around him gets a little louder, as men’s tennis longs for a new storyline and a new star.
Back in Spain, the country’s sports newspapers praised their new all-conquering hero after his win at the Madrid Open.
“Charlie, you’re amazing,” said Marca’s headline; El País stated that “a new star is born”, while the front page of AS simply read “Blessed” in front of a photo of Zverev pouring champagne over Alcaraz.
Alcaraz himself seems to avoid most of this coverage.
“A lot of people looked at me and congratulated me,” Alcaraz told DailyExpertNews after his Miami win.
“Social media is like a boom right now, and I haven’t had time to read it all yet, but it’s amazing that a lot of people and newspapers are talking about you.”
As for toppling the regime that has ruled men’s tennis for the past two decades, Alcaraz is reluctant to profile himself as a revolutionary ushering in a new era.
“I’m a lucky man to learn from these guys [Nadal, Federer and Djokovic] so close — to share a locker room, to share courts,” he said. “I hope to watch it for many years to come.”
But however long the ‘Big Three’ can continue their illustrious careers, Roland Garros would be about to witness the first real challenge to the men’s tennis establishment for a long time.