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"Ambitious guy" Alcaraz has eyes on title

  • Dan Imhoff

The bulk of Carlos Alcaraz’s major-contending rivals tend to stick to a well-trodden path, cautious not to hint at anything too outlandish from the outset if peering into the crystal ball ahead of their Australian Open campaigns.

DRAW: Australian Open 2024 men’s singles

Having opted for more low-key exhibition hit-outs against Alex de Minaur and Casper Ruud at Rod Laver Arena over any official warm-up events, the 20-year-old’s last tour-level match on Australian soil remains a five-set defeat to Matteo Berrettini in the third round two years ago.

His transformation since has been dramatic.

Two major trophies later, the now world No.2 remains arguably 10-time champion Novak Djokovic’s biggest threat, having denied the Serbian the calendar Slam in a match for the ages in last year’s Wimbledon final.

Djokovic’s record at Melbourne Park is imposing but is the ultimate touchstone, and Alcaraz made it clear his overriding goal for the fortnight was not limited to one match at a time.

“I mean, it's an extra motivation for me. I'm an ambitious guy,” Alcaraz said. “I always want to play against the best players in the world to see what is my level. Obviously, it's a good test, playing against him in the places or in the tournament that he's almost unbeaten.

“I’m looking for reaching the final and hopefully playing a final against him. It would be great, obviously. But knowing those stats, it's an extra motivation, for sure.”

Last year, a hamstring injury sustained in practice cost Alcaraz any shot at landing back-to-back hard-court majors, following his Flushing Meadows breakthrough.

While there remained an element of the unknown around his level upon his return, there was good cause for an extended break.

“We end the season so, so late. I prefer to have a holiday, have my days to recover my body, my mind as well,” he said

“Obviously I prefer to do a really good pre-season. I think we discussed with my team, as well, that we need almost four, five weeks of pre-season to prepare well this season, for the first Grand Slam of the year. 

“We have no time if I wanted to play a tournament before the Australian Open. At the end we preferred to come here to Australian Open, straight to a Grand Slam.

“I think I'm a guy who doesn't need so much competition before a big tournament. Obviously [it] always helps, [but] I think I'm prepared to do good things here.”

The Spaniard is drawn to face former world No.7 and French veteran Richard Gasquet in the opening round on Monday, a player he defeated for his maiden tour trophy in Umag in 2021.

While his regular coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, has not made the trip to Melbourne this time round due to knee surgery, Alcaraz has full faith in another of his countrymen, Samuel Lopez, whom he has worked with before.

“It's tough not being with him [Ferrero]. Obviously, he travels almost 100 per cent of the tournaments,” Alcaraz said. “Probably he misses just one or two last year. It's going to be difficult to approach a big tournament without him.

“I have Sam with me [who] is a great coach as well. He was the coach of Juan Carlos when he was playing. I trust him. I believe in him… I think I can learn a lot from him, as well. Let's see how is going to be.”