With his resonant triumph at the Miami Open, Carlos Alcaraz looks set to wrest control of a men’s tour in an unusual state of flux.
So says Todd Woodbridge, who believes the 18-year-old Spaniard’s increasing success marks an exciting period for the sport – and comes at the perfect time.
Alcaraz has won 18 of his 20 matches in 2022 and is on the brink of the top 10 after capturing his first ATP Masters title last weekend, in the process becoming the youngest ever men’s champion in Miami.
Youngest #ATPMasters1000 Champs— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) April 3, 2022
1 Michael Chang, 18y157d, at 1990 @NBOToronto
2 @RafaelNadal, 18y318d, at 2005 @RolexMCMasters
3 @AlcarazCarlos03, 18y333d, at 2022 @MiamiOpen
4 Rafael Nadal, 18y339d, at 2005 @InteBNLdItalia
5 Rafael Nadal, 19y72d, at 2005 @OBNMontreal#MiamiOpen
He is surging at a time when question marks hover above all members of the vaunted Big Three as well as over members of the generations coming up behind them.
His electrifying game thrilled fans in Miami while generating almost unprecedented praise from both players and pundits.
Carlitos @alcarazcarlos03 impresionante. Enhorabuena por lo que consigues, pero sobretodo por lo que transmites. España no puede tener un mejor heredero que tú. Gracias por esos valores y por ese tenis que disfrutamos constantemente. Has nacido para brillar. ?— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) April 3, 2022
Alcaraz is my idol— Thanasi Kokkinakis (@TKokkinakis) April 1, 2022
CARLITOSSSSSSS ????? !!! Que persona, jugador, equipo. El tenis de fiesta y feliz por el. No es fácil encontrar un campeón que todos se ponen felices por su victoria. @alcarazcarlos03 @juankiferri ???— diego schwartzman (@dieschwartzman) April 3, 2022
Feel like I’m number 1 Alcaraz fan at this point— Laura Robson (@laurarobson5) April 1, 2022
"He definitely has an X-factor, but his timing couldn't be better,” Woodbridge told ausopen.com.
“There have been some great young players who came through when you had Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at their best. So you had three game styles, and you had to beat all three to get to the top. Whereas now, there isn't as much to have to worry about with the top talent -- both his peer group, the generation above, and then the Big Three who have dominated.
“Alcaraz now has this window to be able to build his game, to be the dominant player. At 18, he's still maturing, he's still going to grow his game. Technically he's sound, he's going to get stronger.
“He has a period of time now to be able to make his game style the best and the hardest to beat, and he's going to set the base platform of what this next generation of players is going to be playing like.”
Like most others, Woodbridge is captivated by the progress of the new world No.11, who won the Miami title – his second trophy of 2022 – for the loss of just one set.
He is the latest in a long line of impressive talents to emerge on the men’s game in the past decade; Nick Kyrgios upstaged world No.1 Nadal to reach the Wimbledon quarters as a teenager, Dominic Thiem began contending for majors as a 22-year-old, and Alexander Zverev became the first player born in the 1990s to win an ATP Masters title. Last year, 20-year-old Jannik Sinner showcased prodigious ball-striking on his way into the top 10.
But Woodbridge believes Alcaraz is a different breed of rising star.
"It's his ability to keep winning. He’s 18-2 for the season. It is winning a Masters title. But it's not just one result – it's been that trajectory that we haven't really seen,” Woodbridge said.
“(With other rising stars) we've seen an upward curve and then a plateau and then a little dip, before we've seen an upward curve again.
“Alcaraz is going to go and stay trending up. Rafa’s probably the last one to have done that, and then from my perspective it was Boris Becker who similarly burst onto the scene. Boris won a Slam very quickly after winning at Queen's Club. Rafa did the same in 2005, winning his first Masters titles (Monte Carlo and Rome) then turning up to Roland Garros and winning that.
“This is rarefied air Alcaraz has stepped into. So I think it's a really exciting time.”
Of course, Alcaraz has yet to emulate Nadal and Becker in quickly following a big breakthrough title with a Grand Slam triumph; Woodbridge says he will be watching keenly as Alcaraz continues to adapt to five-set tennis at major events.
Indeed, all eyes will be on the teenager when he contests next month’s French Open; in his only previous main-draw appearance at Roland Garros, he reached the third round last year.
Such expectation and hype could understandably rattle a player – no matter how talented – yet Woodbridge believes Alcaraz has ticked all boxes necessary to give himself the best chance of success.
“The way he's competed on court has been robust, but behaviour has been exemplary. He's gritty, he's determined. Those attributes are all very important to creating that complete player,” Woodbridge said.
“He looks like he's watched Rafa and Roger and thought, 'that is the way I have to approach being the best player I can be'.
"You look at the team around him, and (coach) Juan Carlos Ferrero is sound. It's no frills, it's hard work. The ethos that Juan Carlos had to get to world No.1 is what this kid likes, and sees, and is what's working.
“He just seems to be making good decisions at a young age. That's pretty exciting for the sport.”