The Arrival Of Carlos Alcaraz
"Are you getting used to being around these kinds of players?"
"I try to take it in my stride as much as possible, but I’m still amazed to be in the same place as them," Carlos Alcaraz replied to ATPTour.com's question before the start of last year's Miami Open presented by Itau main draw.
It seems like an eternity has passed since that conversation. The Spaniard was 17 years old and No. 132 in the ATP Rankings. His only aspirations were to keep learning from the best.
Although he was clearly on an upwards curve and promising great things, even he would probably have struggled to believe that 12 months later he would be lifting his first ATP Masters 1000 crown on the same stage.
"I have no words to describe how I feel right now," Alcaraz said in his on-court interview. "I have an unbelievable team with me, family... I'm so happy with the win."
En route to the Miami title he left players in his wake with whom this time last year he would have been happy just to be able to train. This success can partly be attributed to the fact that his ascent on the Tour has come under the watchful eye of Juan Carlos Ferrero, someone who has already taken the steps required to reach No. 1 in the world and win big titles.
“Juan Carlos tells me a lot of stories,” Alcaraz explained. “The thing I admire most is everything he can teach me. Everything I’m yet to experience, he has already experienced it and he can convey it to me. Now he can stop me [from] making mistakes that maybe he made at my age.”
The heights reached by Ferrero in 2003 are exactly what Alcaraz has his eyes on. He has never tried to hide the fact that it has been one of his biggest goals since he started to enjoy some success with a racquet in his hand.
“My dream is to be the World No. 1 and I will work hard for it. Whether or not I win this tournament, I am still focused on my goal, which is to be No. 1 in the world,” he declared at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan last November.
On Monday, the Murcia native will climb to No. 11 in the world, just 29 points short of the Top 10. He does so thanks to an immaculate start to the season, in which he has racked up 20 matches with an 18-2 record. That is, the 18-year-old Spaniard has won 90 per cent of the matches he has played. He has only lost to Matteo Berrettini in the fifth set of the third round at the Australian Open and Rafael Nadal in the third set of the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals at Indian Wells.
However, a few months ago at the Australian Open, some of the best players in the world predicted that this could be Alcaraz’s year. In fact, one of those players was his idol, Nadal, the man he trained with in 2021 in Melbourne and played against at the Mutua Madrid Open in the same year.
“When you have all that potential and you’re also a hard worker, it’s hard for things to go badly for you. You would expect his chances of fighting for the biggest titles to increase as each tournament goes by,” said the 21-time Grand Slam champion.
“Obviously, Rafa’s words are really wonderful and much appreciated,” Ferrero responded at the time. “I really agree with what he said. The potential he has.” Meanwhile, Pablo Carreño Busta, his training partner at the JC Ferrero - Equelite Sport Academy, also sent out a warning: “He’s producing some really great results, but they will get even better.”
Time – although we didn’t have to wait long – has proven all three of them right. However, the astonishing thing about Alcaraz’s rise is not so much his results or his talent, it is his ability to normalise the extraordinary, a trait of a special player. At just 18, he shows a maturity, determination and courage on court that are extremely rare for a player of his age.
Even Ferrero has spoken of this. “His dynamism on court is his biggest asset. He is capable of doing what is asked of him and that’s very difficult to get from a player: serve-volley, play high or fast balls, he can do it all,” he explained. “That courage and ability to finish off a point is something I would have liked to have had in my career.”
Alcaraz’s progress on court has come hand in hand with physical development that has made him a complete player: fast, agile and hugely powerful. “We remind him that every day is a brick that he has to lay as carefully as possible, so that the wall he is building is perfect and there are no bricks that were laid badly in his day-to-day work,” said his physio Juanjo Moreno.
Moreno is one of the visible faces of the Spaniard’s work in the gym, but there are many others behind his success, such as Alberto Lledó, his fitness coach; Sergio Hernández, physio; Juanjo López, doctor; and the care he receives in Murcia from Alejandro for preparation and Fran in recovery.
“We focus more on recovery, on taking care of all the details that make up a professional tennis player,” added Moreno. “From the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed, we try to educate Carlos in all the processes of recovery, as he already had good knowledge from working with Néstor Vicente Salar.”
All of these ingredients mean that the player himself is not the only one who believes he will be No. 1 in the world. Many people in the world of tennis, including his peers, opponents, coaches and fans, predict that, sooner or later, Alcaraz will make a charge on the pinnacle of the ATP Rankings.
“I’m grateful that people can see that I can be the best in the world, but my team and I know how difficult it is,” Alcaraz admitted on 20 February, after becoming the youngest player to win an ATP 500 (created in 2009) at the Rio Open presented by Claro. “I think I’m on the right path. If I stay on it and continue to do things right, I’ll have chances, although that doesn’t guarantee anything.”
What was a sure thing though, was his first ATP Masters 1000 crown on Sunday. We still don’t know if his dream of being the No. 1 in the world will come true, but we do know that he is now ready to take on the biggest titles, as he proved in Miami.
Did You Know?
At this edition of the Miami Open presented by Itaú, Carlos Alcaraz became the first Spanish champion in the tournament’s history. Sergi Bruguera (1997), Carlos Moyà (2003), David Ferrer (2013) and Rafael Nadal (2005, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017) were all finalists before the man from Murcia made the breakthrough.