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‘Hitting Huge’: Borges Remembers 16-Year-Old Alcaraz Ahead Of Barcelona Clash

Portuguese plays top seed and home favourite on Tuesday at ATP 500
April 17, 2023
Nuno Borges en route to victory against Ilya Ivashka on Monday in Barcelona.
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
Nuno Borges en route to victory against Ilya Ivashka on Monday in Barcelona. By Andy West

Nuno Borges has watched Carlos Alcaraz play up close before. The circumstances were considerably different to those he will step into on Tuesday when he takes on the World No. 2 at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.

“We shared a court one time in Spain, in Martos,” Borges told on Monday after his first-round win against Ilya Ivashka at the clay-court ATP 500. “It was an [ITF World Tennis Tour] 25k. He was 16… He was hitting huge already and was really physical for his age. I guess you can see that now.”

In the three years since, Alcaraz has claimed eight tour-level titles, including a maiden Grand Slam at the US Open and three ATP Masters 1000 crowns, and become the youngest No. 1 in the history of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Even if the Spaniard dropped to No. 2 behind Novak Djokovic last month, Borges is expecting Alcaraz to bring his best to the pair’s second-round clash on Pista Rafa Nadal.

“No. 1 or No. 2 in the world, I just know for sure he is up there for a reason,” said the 26-year-old Borges. “I’ve seen him grow up the past few years, he’s shown up in Portugal a couple of times. I’m just excited. I’ll try to do my best. I know he’s going to come after me with all he’s got and that’s what he always does. So I’ve got to be on top of my game and just try to enjoy the atmosphere.

“[It’s a] great tournament, I’m just happy that I’m here and will try to absorb a bit the big things I’ve been doing.”

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The ‘big things’ Borges refers to include lifting two ATP Challenger Tour titles in the opening three months of 2023 and rising to a career-high No. 63 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in early April. The former Mississippi State University college player, who first cracked the Top 100 last September, hopes that momentum can help him build on his 3-6 tour-level start to the year.

“I’ve built a lot of confidence throughout the past few weeks,” said Borges. “I still need to prove myself this year on clay, and I’m just really happy. I’ve been feeling great on these courts. I know I was playing great tennis, it’s just up to being able to do it on court in a match.

“I’m just really happy that it’s been going well. Staying healthy has been a really big thing for me, just really happy and excited for tomorrow. A big match.”

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Perhaps the most notable barometer of Borges’ progress was his Challenger Tour triumph in Phoneix in March. He defeated Alexander Shevchenko in the championship match to prevail from a field that included Matteo Berrettini, Gael Monfils, Jiri Lehecka and the player Borges beat in the first round, former World No. 8 Diego Schwartzman.

“That tournament was just proof that in tennis anything can happen,” said Borges. “They came out with three big wild cards and none of them went past the quarters. It just shows that some of those [lower-ranked] guys are able to beat the top guys some days of the week. Maybe not every day in [all] conditions, but if you believe in that situation, I think you can do great things.

“That’s what I’m going to try to do tomorrow [against Alcaraz]. Honestly, just try to enjoy it. Really, I can’t expect too much from myself. I’m [just] going for it.”

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