Player Features

Can Alcaraz Meet The Moment In Turin Debut?

Spaniard is a six-time tour-level champion in 2023
November 08, 2023
ATP Tour
By Andy West

"I think my tennis didn't improve so much since last year. What I improved a lot is to [handle] the pressure, just to play relaxed. That's the most important thing for me.”

Carlos Alcaraz’s words after becoming champion for the first time at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March reflected a 19-year-old at ease with his relatively newfound status as one of the world’s top players.

The Spaniard’s stunning breakout 2022 season, during which he lifted five trophies en route to becoming the youngest No. 1 in Pepperstone ATP Rankings history, could hardly have been a tougher act to follow. Yet Alcaraz has done just that this year, notching six tour-level crowns and constantly jostling with Novak Djokovic in the race for the coveted ATP Year-End No. 1 presented by Pepperstone honour.

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Although the Serbian enters the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin as heavy favourite to finish 2023 as World No. 1, Alcaraz can look back on another remarkable year in his fledgling ATP Tour career. He wasted little time finding his rhythm on the South American clay after a hamstring injury delayed the start of his season to mid-February, charging to ATP 250 success in Buenos Aires before reaching the final as defending champion in Rio de Janeiro.

His title run in Indian Wells, followed by successful title defences at home in Barcelona and Madrid, ensured Alcaraz had won four of his first six tournaments of the year. His Madrid crown made him the sixth-youngest player in the Open Era to become a 10-time tour-level champion and improved his record in championship matches to 10-3.

“To want to play the tough moments and staying relaxed is the most important part for me,” Alcaraz said after sweeping past Stefanos Tsitsipas to claim the crown in Barcelona. “To forget the mistakes, everything and be myself on court. Not to think about all the people watching, but just me, the court, the racquet and the final."

That ability to bring his best to the biggest moments has been evident throughout Alcaraz’s rise. Perhaps the one unknown surrounding the Spaniard’s on-court prowess prior to this year was whether he could successfully adapt his game to grass, a surface on which he entered 2023 having played just two tour-level events.

As ever, Alcaraz proved himself a fast learner. On the lawns of The Queen’s Club, he dropped just one set all week to claim the title on event debut and raise the intriguing prospect of providing a bona fide challenge to Novak Djokovic’s four-year reign as Wimbledon champion.

“It means a lot to me. Being able to win this amazing tournament in my first time that I played here for me is fantastic,” said Alcaraz after winning at the London ATP 500 to secure his return to World No. 1 ahead of WImbledon. “To know that I’m [capable of] a good level on grass, obviously [to be] champion of every tournament feels special.”

Even considering that significant grass-court breakthrough, few may have believed what was to come next. The 20-year-old dropped just two sets en route to the final at Wimbledon to set the much-anticipated final showdown with Djokovic, by then on a 34-match winning streak at SW19.

Then, an all-time classic championship match. Four hours, 42 minutes and five sets of topsy-turvy grass-court action that ended with Djokovic netting a forehand and Alcaraz falling backwards onto Centre Court in ecstasy. With his 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory, Alcaraz simultaneously denied Djokovic a return to No. 1 and cemented his spot at the Nitto ATP Finals.

“Making history that I did today, it's the happiest moment of my life,” said Alcaraz. “I think it's not going to change for a long time. Beating Novak, winning the Wimbledon championship is something that I dreamt about since I started playing tennis. That's why this is the biggest moment of my life.”

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Without a title since his thrilling win at the All England Club in July, Alcaraz will be aiming to finish his year with a flourish on debut In Turin, where he did not compete at the 2022 Nitto ATP Finals due to an abdominal injury. His lack of experience playing at the Pala Alpitour is unlikely to bother the 20-year-old, however, who has won three of his 12 tour-level crowns on event debut, including this year in Buenos Aires and at The Queen’s Club.

Entering the season finale as World No. 2 and with a 63-10 season record, Alcaraz will be considered one of the frontrunners for the trophy in Italy. He only has to look at the status of his Lexus ATP Head2Head series with some of his closest rivals to know that his campaign could hinge on the finest of margins — Alcaraz is tied 2-2 with both World No. 1 Djokovic and No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, and trails No. 4 Jannik Sinner 3-4 — but those are the sort of challenges the Spaniard relishes.

“I like those battles. I like to know that I can lose, and I can recover it at the same time,” said Alcaraz in August in Cincinnati, when asked specifically about his rivalry with Djokovic. “Of course, you have to enjoy when the battle is against one of the legends from our sport. For me, it's something crazy, and I'm trying to enjoy [it].”

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