On July 6, 2003, the day after Alcaraz turned two months old, Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, kicking off an era in which the “Big Three” have won 61 of the last 74 Grand Slam tournaments.
Around this time, various players were touted as the “next generation” of men’s tennis; in 2015, it was Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic; in 2019, it was Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas; in 2022, it’s Carlos Alcaraz.
So far, no member of this ‘next generation’ has consistently challenged the dominance of the ‘Big Three’, although there is something different about Alcaraz – something not seen since exploits. of his compatriot Nadal.
Like Nadal, Alcaraz broke into 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 break into the top 10 and win an ATP 1000 title.
Change the goal posts
After winning the Miami Open in April, Alcaraz presented his relatively modest goals for 2022 to CNN’s Don Riddell – to 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 claimed their fourth title of 2022 at the Madrid Open, beating Nadal and Djokovic en route to the final.
So far this year he has amassed a remarkable 90% win rate – a percentage that rises to 94% on clay.
Following these victories and his meteoric rise to the top of the sport, Alcaraz shifted his focus for the year.
“I would say I’m one of the favorite players to win Roland Garros,” Alcaraz told CNN.
“There are a lot of great players – Rafa, Djokovic, the best players in the world will play there, but I think I’m ready to have a good result at Roland Garros.”
If Alcaraz wants to win his first Grand Slam at Roland Garros, he will have to do it the hard way as the 19-year-old is in the same half of the draw as Nadal and Djokovic.
Nevertheless, the Alcaraz team remains optimistic.
“Carlos will reach where he wants,” Alcaraz physical trainer Alberto Lledó told CNN Sport.
“If he aims for a goal and continues to work with the same commitment as before, he can achieve it.”
Sharing special moments
Alcaraz’s rise to becoming a Roland Garros favorite began in his hometown of El Palmar, on the outskirts of Murcia, where he was spotted aged 11 by his now-agent Albert Molina.
Four years later, Juan Carlos Ferrero – a former world number one. 1 and runner-up at Roland-Garros – started coaching the youngster.
Their close relationship was evident at the Miami Open where Ferrero was absent for much of the tournament because his father had passed away.
“This is for Juanki. Victory is yours,” Alcaraz wrote in Spanish on a camera lens after his semi-final victory.
Once 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,” Alcaraz said.
“He’s been going through a tough time right now. He left 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 mentality 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 sport’s top level seems to have happened overnight after huge improvements during the offseason. In fact, the opposite is true, according to Moreno.
“This year we had a long pre-season, so we were able to focus more on his physical development, but the change in physical form is the result of Carlos working hard over a long period, changing his working habits, rest and diet,” says Moreno.
The key to success
This “culture of effort” is also reflected in Alcaraz’s performance on the pitch.
His athleticism forms the foundation of his game, allowing him to unleash aggressive groundstrokes and boldly defend in all areas of the court.
“I think I go every game and every moment,” Alcaraz said. “I’m not afraid of anything, I don’t mind if I play against any player in the world.”
It’s this consistency across all areas of the game that seems to be the key to its success.
He doesn’t have an overwhelming strength – like an extraordinarily powerful serve – that can be neutralized by specific tactics, nor an obvious weakness.
“He’s an incredibly complete and complete player for someone so young and he can do anything,” Rothenberg said.
“He seems very sharp tactically, he has a very good tennis IQ and physically he has been great too.”
For Lledó, it is Alcaraz’s mentality and “the personality he shows in difficult times, the way he faces them” that characterizes him as a special talent.
In his quarter-final against Nadal at the Madrid Open, for example, Alcaraz were outscored 6-1 in the second set but still rallied to win the match, as he then managed a 6-7 (5) 7-5 7-6 (5) victory against Djokovic in the semi-final.
Along with Alcaraz’s prodigious talent on the pitch, he has an easy charm and a broad smile that endear him to the crowd wherever he plays.
“No one really has a bad word to say about [him]“, said Rothenberg.
“Another star is born”
With each championship Alcaraz wins, the hype around him grows a little louder as men’s tennis yearns for a new story and a new star.
Back in Spain, the country’s sports newspapers hailed their new all-conquering hero after his win at the Madrid Open.
‘Charlie, you’re awesome,’ read the Marca headline; El País said “another star is born”, while AS’s front page simply read “Blessed” in front of a photo of Zverev pouring champagne on Alcaraz.
Alcaraz himself seems to avoid most of this coverage.
“A lot of people were looking at me, congratulating me,” Alcaraz told CNN after his win in Miami.
“Social media right now is like a boom, 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 overthrowing the regime that has ruled men’s tennis for the past two decades, Alcaraz is reluctant to portray himself as a revolutionary heralding a new era.
“I’m a lucky guy to learn from these guys [Nadal, Federer and Djokovic] so close – to share a locker room, to share pitches,” he said. “I hope to watch them for many years.
But however long the ‘Big Three’ can extend their illustrious career, Roland Garros could be about to witness the first real challenge to the established order in men’s tennis in a long time.