Editor's note: This story was translated from ATPTour.com/es
It is practically impossible to walk the corridors of the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona-1899 at this year’s Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell without hearing Carlos Alcaraz’s name. On top of being the first seed, the 19-year-old Spaniard is the defending champion at the ATP 500 event.
The world No. 2 is bidding to successfully defend an ATP title for the first time next week in Catalunya. He attempted the feat in Umag last year, but his campaign ended in the final against Jannik Sinner. Earlier this season in Rio de Janeiro, where he played Cameron Norrie in the championship match, the result was the same. At the ATP Masters 1000 in Miami he bowed out in the semi-finals.
Alcaraz has come close to defending his titles on every attempt so far but has never managed to reclaim his throne. This week in Barcelona, he is hoping it will be a different story, although a relaxed Alcaraz is keen to distance himself from any kind of pressure.
“We’ll be thinking about everything, apart from defending the title,” he said with a smile at the pre-tournament press conference. “Barcelona is a place I love playing in, where I have really amazing memories, not just from last year, but also from playing when I was young. I’m going to try and avoid that pressure to defend the title.”
He will certainly enjoy the support of the crowds. As always when playing at home, his family, friends, and the legions of fans he has amassed since bursting onto the scene will be right behind him. However, he does not yet know who his first opponent will be (the winner of the clash between Ilya Ivashka and Nuno Borges).
“I’m a player who looks at the route to the final, but only briefly,” he said of his defence of the crown. “But my focus is on the first round, and it will stay there until I’ve played it.”
Looking at the draw, which doesn’t include his compatriot and 12-time champion Rafael Nadal, does nothing to improve his chances. At least that is the 2022 champion’s opinion.
“I’m a tennis player but I’m also a tennis fan and I always want to see the best players at every tournament. With what Rafa has achieved at this tournament, it’s a shame not to have him here, not to be able to enjoy his tennis and I wish him a speedy recovery.
“The absences don’t make me feel like more of a favourite. Every match is huge and every player in the draw can beat me, no problem,” he said about the strong field at the Barcelona event. “I have to stay focused and play my best in every match. I don’t feel like a favourite at all, every match is huge, and I have to play as well as possible.”
“Whenever we play, I think it’s very fun to watch and they are great matches,” he said. “I hope to have a rivalry with Jannik like the ones between great players like Rafa, Djokovic and Federer. Also, we get on well off-court.”
Whatever Alcaraz has to say on the matter, he will not easily shake off the label of favourite. But, what’s different about the Murcia native since last year’s win?
“Maturity,” came the immediate response. “Both on and off the court, I feel more mature, I read the situation on court better so I can change something if it’s going badly. That’s the only difference I see in myself compared to last year. I feel the same in terms of shots.”
Alcaraz is starting this clay swing with no recent matches on the surface. However, he claimed a title on the surface in February in Buenos Aires before his run to the final in Rio de Janeiro. He also recently added a new ATP Masters 1000 trophy to his cabinet in Indian Wells.
He defines his love for this week’s surface in the following way: “To me, playing on clay is like being in a battle and that’s what I like about it. Every point is a battle, you have to play tactically and that’s the great thing about playing on this surface.”
That is precisely what the Spaniard will be doing once again, back on the clay of his homeland.