How Does Carlos Alcaraz Compare At 20 To Tennis' All-time Greats

How does Carlos Alcaraz compare at 20 to tennis’ all-time greats?

The Spanish wunderkind boasts two Grand Slam titles at the age of 20. But where does he rank among the all-time greats at the same age?

AS CARLOS ALCARAZ completed a rather routine thrashing of Miomir Kecmanovic at the Australian Open last night, it was hard to believe the world no.2 is still only 20.

Since coming to prominence in 2022, the Spaniard has already won two Grand Slams, including the 2022 US Open and an epic Wimbledon final against the Grand Slam GOAT, Novak Djokovic in 2023. He then lost to Djokovic in the final of last year’s US Open, and the way he played last night, looks on track to meet the Serb, who is vying for his 11th AO title, in the final on Sunday.

The 20 year old, who hails from El Palma, a village in the Murcia region of Spain, has already been world no.1, becoming at 19 years, 4 months and 6 days, the youngest man in history to occupy the coveted position, breaking Lleyton Hewitt’s record. He would hold the honour for 20 weeks until Djokovic reclaimed it at the 2023 Australian Open. Alcaraz was also the youngest men’s US Open champion since Pete Sampras in 1990.

To cap things off, Alcaraz has racked up an astonishing US$27m ($41m AUD) in prize money, a figure that will rise after the AO, regardless of where he finishes. Repeat, the dude is 20!

Alcaraz may be benefitting from being the right man in the right place at the right time. The generation of tennis players that preceded him were largely prevented from joining the Grand Slam club due to the dominant presence of The Big Three (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic), who had a stranglehold on the rankings and silverware—let’s be generous and include Nick Kyrgios among those who might have a Grand Slam or two if they’d been born at another time. With the Big Three now essentially just a Big One in Djokovic—though you can never write off Nadal at Roland Garros—Alcaraz is leading the pack of a new generation of players who may have a shot at filling their boots with silverware.

Djokovic will have plenty to say about that. Indeed, he said he was so furious at losing the Wimbledon final that he vowed not to lose during the US season last year, taking his game to an even higher level. He seems energised by the challenge Alcaraz presents.

Given Alcaraz’s remarkable career trajectory thus far, it’s a fun exercise to look at his record and compare him to the all-time greats at the same age, and then predict whether the Spaniard has a shot at passing them on career achievements. It’s not an exact science, of course. Some guys are late bloomers. Others blossom early and then fall away—looking at you Lleyton. Here’s a look at where Alcaraz ranks among the game’s all-time greats at the age of 20.

 

 

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Novak Djokovic

In 2008, at age 20, the Djoker disrupted Federer and Nadal’s streak of 11 consecutive majors by winning his first major title at the Australian Open. Who would have predicted he’d win nine more? That first AO victory marked him as a player to watch but the Djoker was actually a little ahead of schedule, for he wouldn’t officially become a member of the Big Three until around 2011, when he won his second Australian Open and first US and Wimbledon titles in the same year, and became world no.1 for the first time, at 24. Advantage Alcaraz.

 

 

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Roger Federer

Federer won his first major singles title at Wimbledon in 2003 at the age of 21. Between 2003 and 2009, the Swiss ace played in 21 out of 28 major singles finals—in what wasn’t a strong era for men’s tennis. He won three of the four majors and the ATP Finals in 2004, 2006, and 2007 as well as five consecutive titles at both Wimbledon and the US Open. At Wimbledon in 2009, he surpassed Sampras’ record of 14 major men’s singles titles. Then the Big Three era began and Federer’s Grand Slam trophy pace slowed. Importantly, at 20, he was yet to win a Slam so it’s advantage Alcaraz.

 

 

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Rafael Nadal

In the early stages of his career, Nadal was considered purely a clay-court assassin, which seems daft now. The Spaniard became one of the most successful teenagers in ATP tour history, reaching the world No. 2 ranking and winning 16 titles before turning 20, including his first French Open. Nadal became the world No. 1 for the first time in 2008. Like Alcaraz, he too, boasted two Grand Slam titles at the age of 20, with victories in the 2005 French Open at 19 and again in 2006, aged 20. He and his compatriot are roughly even at the same age; let’s call this one a deuce.

 

 

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Pete Sampras

In 1990, Sampras beat Andre Agassi in straight sets to become the US Open’s youngest-ever male singles champion at the age of 19 years and 28 days. But he would not add to his trophy cabinet until Wimbledon in 1993 at the age of 22. Advantage Alcaraz.

 

 

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Andre Agassi 

Sampras’ great rival, the Las Vegas showman, Andre Agassi, wouldn’t notch the first of his eight Grand Slams until the age of 22 and wouldn’t become world no.1 until 1995, at age 25, a position he held for 30 weeks. Advantage Alcaraz.

 

 

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Lleyton Hewitt

In November 2001, Hewitt became the youngest man (before Alcaraz) to claim the No.1 ranking at the age of 20 years, 8 months and 26 days, when he won the 2001 US Open. He would then win the Wimbledon title the next year at age 21 but the Grand Slam cabinet would slam shut after that, though Hewitt did make the 2005 Australian Open final, losing to Marat Safin.

 

 

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Boris Becker

‘Boom Boom’ Becker announced himself to the world when he beat American Kevin Curran in the 1985 Wimbledon final in four sets at age 17 years, 228 days. At the time he was the youngest-ever male Grand Slam champion (he was surpassed by Michael Chang who was 17 years, 110 days when he won his only Grand Slam at the 1989 French Open). Becker would win Wimbledon again in ’86 and ’89 and was 21 when he claimed his third title, though he would not get the no.1 ranking until 1991. Advantage Alcaraz.

 

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Bjorn Borg

The impossibly stylish baseline maestro became the first teenager to win a Grand Slam singles title when he beat Manuel Orantes in the 1974 French Open final at the age of 18. He added a second French Open the next year and a Wimbledon title in 1976 at 20 years and one month. He first claimed the no.1 ranking at age 21 (he held it for just one week before giving it back to Jimmy Connors) but importantly, the Swede had three Grand Slam titles by the age of 20. Alcaraz needs to win the AO on Sunday to equal him. Advantage, for now, to Bjorg.

 

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Mats Wilander

Wilander exploded onto the tennis scene when he won the French Open in 1982 as an unseeded player aged 17 years, 293 days. He would add the Australian Open in ’83 and ’84 and another French Open in ’85 to become the only player to have won four Grand Slams before the age of 20, though he wouldn’t become world no.1 until he was 24. Still, advantage Wilander.

 

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By Ben Jhoty

Ben Jhoty, Men’s Health’s Head of Content, attempts to honour the brand’s health-conscious, aspirational ethos on weekdays while living marginally larger on weekends. A new father, when he’s not rocking an infant to sleep, he tries to get to the gym, shoot hoops and binge on streaming shows.

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