For the last few years in the sport of tennis, when it comes to the men’s game a mere handful of names have circulated the global stage. Where it used to be the case that wild cards and upsets were to be expected in the sporting arena, the professional men’s circuit has remained relatively stable, leaning the way of its favourites. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have continued to dominate the game on a global stage, creating an impenetrable force when it comes to the ranking system. But in recent months, one man has fought his way into the top 10 and though the name Carlos Alcaraz might not hold the same gravitas as those four, tennis fans would do well to take notice as they’ll surely be seeing more of him in the future.
At just 18-years-old, Alcaraz is enjoying a stellar 2022 breakout season that has seen him triumph in both Miami and Barcelona, while becoming the youngest player to break into the ATP top 10 since Rafael Nadal in 2005. To put this in perspective, in April of 2021, Alcaraz was ranked as low as 133rd, only to fast forward 12 months to see himself ranked ninth in the world. He won his first ATP title at the Croatia Open in July of 2021 and also made the US Open quarter-finals later that year. Though Nadal was a month younger than Alcaraz when he made the top 10, the youngest man to break into the ATP tour’s covetable ranking hierarchy was Aaron Krickstein, who was 11 days past his 17th birthday when he debuted in August 1984.
In 2022, Alcaraz made the third round of the Australian Open before going on to win the Rio Open a month later. After reaching the semi-finals of the Indian Wells Masters, the young star went on to win the Miami Open in April, marking his first ATP 1000 title and cementing his name as the youngest men’s champion in the tournament’s history. He’s also triumphed on clay, bouncing back from a second-round exit in Monte Carlo to win the Barcelona Open which sealed his rise into the ATP top 10.
Naturally, such success at a young age has seen intense pressure added to the shoulders of Alcaraz and while he will need a strong and supportive team around him, with coach Juan Carlos Ferrero guiding him, it seems clear that success will be in his future. Still, comparisons to Nadal have been quick to plague the Spaniard, who boasts a number of similar attributes to the tennis icon. Facing off twice on tour already, the more recent show-down between Nadal and Alcaraz occurred at Indian Wells, where Alcaraz won the second set before Nadal came back to win 6-4 4-6 6-3.
Even so, it seems Nadal recognises the talent Alcaraz holds in bounds. “I think he’s unstoppable in terms of his career. He has all the ingredients. He has the passion. He’s humble enough to work hard. He’s a good guy,” said Nadal in a press conference. “He [reminds] me a lot of things from when I was 17 or 18-year-old kid. I think he has the passion. He has the talent and the physical component and that’s great. And I am super happy, even, of course he’s going to be a great rival for now and for the next couple of months, without doubt.”
Nadal went on to add, “Thinking and being selfish, it’s great, honestly, to have such a star from my country, because we, for the tennis lovers, we’re going to keep enjoy an amazing player fighting for the most important titles for the next many years, a lot of years. That’s my feeling, from my point of view. That’s fantastic for the tennis lovers and he’s a countryman and he’s a great guy.”
Alcaraz will next compete at the French Open in May before heading to the Madrid Open where he will be hoping to chase more silverware on home soil. Should he be successful, he’ll then enter Roland-Garros as a contender, a tournament which saw him make the third round in 2021.