In just two years, 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz has soared from world No.492 to a peak of No.32.
The youngest player to rank so high in almost 30 years, Alcaraz is expected to be seeded at Australian Open 2022 and will aim to improve on last year’s US Open quarterfinal finish that showcased his elite talent to the world.
Alcaraz’s rise is more astounding given he seems to have exploded onto the scene from nowhere.
He was unranked at the beginning of 2019 – having at that time played just one professional event ever – and although he was a winning member of Spain’s Junior Davis Cup team in 2018, he never cracked the top 20 in the junior ranks.
His progression to the pro level was especially swift, and his arrival decisive; in his ATP main-draw debut at Rio de Janeiro, he upset world No.41 Albert Ramos-Vinolas at just 16 years of age.
That was in February 2020, just prior to COVID-19 shutting down the pro tennis circuit for almost six months. But he competed where he could, building a 39-7 win-loss record helped by three ATP Challenger titles and two ITF Futures crowns.
After beginning 2020 just inside the top 500, he ended that season at No.141, earning ATP Newcomer of the Year honours.
He truly caught fire once the tour moved to clay, beating Casper Ruud – now a top-10 player – on his way to the ATP Marbella semifinals then winning the Oeiras Challenger to crack the top 100. He took his winning streak to 10 matches by qualifying for Roland Garros and then reaching third round, and the following month, also on clay, he won the Umag tournament – his first ATP title.
Yet his standout result came at the US Open, where he stunned world No.3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets before going on to reach the quarterfinals.
Tsitsipas was the first of three top-10 victims for Alcaraz in 2021, a season which he finished with 48 match wins and as the champion at ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan.
Alcaraz’s success has seen the Spaniard post several ‘youngest since’ milestones.
His Umag title made him the youngest ATP tournament winner since Kei Nishikori 13 years earlier, while his run in New York saw him become the youngest Grand Slam quarterfinalist since Michael Chang at Roland Garros in 1990.
At 18 years and four months, Alcaraz became the youngest US Open men’s quarterfinalist in the Open Era.
In the early stages of his career, Alcaraz is progressing in an eerily similar manner to that of his idol, Rafael Nadal.
Nadal won his first ATP match at 15, cracked the top 100 at just before turning 17 – Nadal and Alcaraz are the two youngest Spaniards to enter this bracket – and won his first ATP trophy (Sopot 2004) at an almost identical age.
Their strokes and styles are distinctly different, but could Alcaraz be considered the right-handed Rafa?
Alcaraz, too, has a game built around a huge forehand loaded with topspin; US Open data revealed Nadal (in 2019) and Alcaraz (in 2021) played a similar percentage of forehands during their matches and generated comparably high revolutions-per-minute (RPMs) on the ball.
Nadal may have dominated his only meeting so far with Alacaraz when the two met at the 2021 Madrid Masters.
But with Nadal closer to the end than the beginning of his career, isn’t it remarkable to see another hard-working, humble Spaniard with a similarly huge forehand and high ceiling coming through?
Alcaraz enjoys golf, football, and supporting Real Madrid (also just like Nadal).
His father introduced him to tennis at age four, and while he clearly loves the sport – just check out his Instagram account – the young Spaniard explained he also enjoys time away from sporting pursuits.
“When I finish a tournament, I really like to go to my home, to spend time with friends and family,” he said.
On reaching the top of the game: “I’m ready to belong in that (top) category. To do good results in the ATP and the Grand Slams. I think I’m ready.”
On his goals for 2022: “I'm going to aim high and hope to break into the Top 15. I might even try and qualify for (the ATP Finals) Turin. It's a difficult goal, but it's good at the end of the season."
Experts are saying...
“I’ve got to mention the forehand. His arm at 18 years old is so explosive, it’s like Rafa Nadal when he was 18 years old – the same strength. But then the two-handed backhand is unbelievably solid. And then, he’s got good hands – he threw in drop shots which put Tsitsipas completely off… I think he has the dream of being No.1 in the world. Well I’m telling you, this kid – yes, and it is very possible.”
- Mats Wilander, after Alcaraz upset win over Tsitsipas at the US Open.
“He goes to the court and he believes in himself and he thinks he’s going to win. Doesn’t matter who he’s gonna play. So that’s a very good thing.”
- Former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz’s coach.