Who is supposed to close the huge gap that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will one day leave behind? What will become of tennis without the Big 3? As of this year, the answer is clear. Her name is Carlos Alcaraz, and world sport is in the best hands with the Spaniard.
In Basel, too, the 19-year-old from Murcia blossomed into a crowd favorite the very first time he took part. With his commitment, tournament director Roger Brennwald has succeeded in a small stroke of genius – all the more so since Federer unexpectedly fell away as a figurehead. Alcaraz has everything to become a superstar. He combines Djokovic’s athleticism on the defensive, Nadal’s combative attitude and Federer’s playful souplesse. It offers the spectators the wow effect that fans flock to the stadium for.
Still an apprentice even after the master’s examination
In addition, the Spaniard has the rare gift of appearing self-confident and humble at the same time. He also shows that in Basel. “I can still improve a lot,” he repeats at every opportunity. “Everywhere. Mentally, physically and technically.” Alcaraz still sees himself as an apprentice, although he has long since passed his master’s exam by triumphing at the US Open and becoming the youngest number 1 in tennis history.
Juan Carlos Ferrero’s protégé lost two of the first three games after the US Open. This should not be due to the increased expectations. “The situation around me has changed, but not my life,” he assures. “I still have the same people around me. I train hard and I want to keep improving.”
Farther than Nadal at the same age
Incidentally, this does not only apply to his tennis. The Real Madrid fan diligently takes English lessons and improves in this area almost every day. So he is actually better in every respect than Nadal at the same age. Of course, that’s not a guarantee for 20 more Grand Slam titles.
Alcaraz still has little experience with the relatively fast indoor courts, which is why his defeats are not particularly dramatic. In Basel it also took him a little to get used to the conditions, which he perceives more slowly than expected. In the opening game on Monday against the young Englishman Jack Draper, he looked for the point far too quickly at the beginning and made a veritable orgy of mistakes. But it speaks for the teenager that he pulled himself together after the initial difficulties and fought his way to victory in three sets.
In the second round things went much better against the Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp, in the quarter-finals on Friday the hurdle with world number 15 Pablo Carreño Busta is even higher. It’s going to be a special game. “Pablo is my best buddy on the tour,” says Alcaraz of his compatriot, who is twelve years his senior.
New target found
It can be assumed that he will also master this challenge. However, the meteoric rise this year had one consequence: Alcaraz had to look for a new goal, because until now he had always said he wanted to be number 1. However, that is not a problem either. “Now I want to remain number 1 in the world,” he says with a smile – and that irresistible mixture of self-confidence and restraint.