Carlos Alcaraz: Successor to the Big Three
Nine titles, one grand slam, number one in the world, and a dream. Being the youngest player to win at more than half of these tournaments, Carlos Alcaraz has become one of history's most prominent up-and-coming tennis players at just 19 years old, his level as a teenager surpasses numerous players currently dominating the tour. Doing this, however, was no easy feat for Alcaraz.
With the exception of Rafael Nadal, the best tennis players in the world usually only show promise at a young age, becoming stars at a later stage in their career. Alcaraz has accomplished this for arguably the first time since the big three: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.
Spanish-born on May 5th, 2003 and the son of a former professional tennis player, Alcaraz became invested in tennis from the age of four, taking inspiration from Rafael Nadal. In 2018, when Alcaraz turned 15, he turned professional with the former world number 1, Juan Carlos Ferrero, as his coach.
After playing a couple of junior and challenger tournaments since the start of his professional career, Alcaraz landed an opportunity to play as a wildcard (a player who qualifies based on the tournament organizer’s discretion) in the 2020 Rio Open. In this first debut, he won his first ever ATP Tour match against Ramos-Vinolas at rank 406, blowing the world with his monstrous saves. Just like Nadal, he went for every single ball with incredible effort, hitting a lot of seemingly impossible returns, and winning incredible points. Although he lost in the second round, this first match gave him a taste of the higher ranks and was key in bringing attention to Alcaraz and his tenacity on the court.
2021, however, was the year that Alcaraz truly started to show the world what he could do. He won his first title at the Croatia Open and hit his peak rating of number 54 in the world on August 2, 2021. Later in the year, Alcaraz went on to make his debut at the US Open. After winning in straight sets against Cameron Norrie, he went on to battle past long and drawn-out matches against Tsitsipas, Rinderknech, and Gojowczyk, defeating all of them in the fifth set. This was a tremendous achievement for this rising young star, especially after beating Tsitsipas, but playing a total of 15 hard fought sets in 3 matches in the span of 5 days is a physically challenging feat, even for the most athletic players on the tour. All of this action caught up to Alcaraz on the seventh day, where he had to retire from a match due to an injury against Felix Auger-Aliassime. Although this was devastating, Alcaraz used this opportunity to recover and come back stronger than ever in 2022.
Apart from his physique, his playing style was the key to helping Alcaraz climb the ranks. His strengths fall to his forehand and his drop shots, although his backhand is also very powerful. Alcaraz’s playing style is often characterized as unique because he is aggressive with certain shots that other players won’t often take the risk to hit, and his form allows him to hit the ball hard with extreme amounts of topspin. Apart from the consistency of ripping the ball, Alcaraz is also great with his positioning. He is able to consistently position the ball wherever he wants, and when he combines the effects of that power and precision, it leads the opponents to return the ball at a slower pace, giving Alcaraz more chances to continue his relentless attacks. In addition, his ability to position the ball effectively allows him to make great use of his drop shots. Alcaraz is able to mask his drop shot from anywhere on the court. At times, it might look like he is going to rip another forehand, but instead, he would proceed to hit a slice right in front of the net. Combining his shot-making with his unpredictable but aggressive playstyle, Alcaraz is a terrifying player to play against.
After recovering from his 2021 US Open injury, Alcaraz came back stronger than ever. In 2022, he went on a winning streak: the Rio Open, the Miami Open, the Barcelona Open, and the Madrid Open. After beating both Nadal and Djokovic in the Madrid Open, the most important tournament in Alcaraz’s teenage career arrived for the year: the US Open. At this point, Alcaraz was ranked number 4 in the world, and after cruising past Baez, Coria, and Brooksby in straight sets, he started to really test his limits. His real challenges came with the matches against Sinner and Tiafoe. Both of these 5 setters were extremely drawn out, with numerous tiebreakers to decide sets. After battling past these two players, Alcaraz reached the final. In this final match, he was up against Casper Ruud, who was ranked No. 7 at the time, and displayed a lot of tenacity, winning a lot of difficult matches. Out of the two matches they played prior, Alcaraz was triumphant in both. While this would make it seem as if Alcaraz was sure to take it home, many were dubious as Ruud had shown much improvement, and of course, had the US Open on the line. There was also the added pressure of ranking, as the winner of this match would become world number one and the loser would be world number two. Alcaraz took the first set 6 games to 4, but not easily. Ruud used the first set to slowly get used to Alcaraz’s playing style and ended up achieving the second set 6 games to 2. Then came out the long, drawn-out tiebreaker of the third set, of which Alcaraz won and shifted the momentum in his direction. Alcaraz then used this momentum to dominate the fourth set 6 games to 3, essentially winning the 2022 US Open. This effectively made him the seventh youngest player to win a grand slam and the youngest ever world number one.
As a teenager, Carlos Alcaraz, a new star in the tennis world, has emerged as a fierce powerhouse, having Federer’s intuition, Nadal’s tenacity, and Djokovic’s sheer power. As the big three of tennis are slowly retiring one by one, people have been looking for “the next big thing”, and if Alcaraz was able to gather as many achievements as he did through the pandemic, then he has the potential to live up to these expectations. Many more goals await Alcaraz, like beating Nadal’s 912 consecutive weeks in the top 10 rankings, winning the greatest number of tournaments, and maybe even developing his own technique. Will Alcaraz ever live up to these expectations or even surpass the big three? Only time will tell.
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