How Carlos Alcaraz Acquired Reputation As The “Next Nadal”

Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old Spaniard, becomes the youngest No. 1 male tennis player in the world after winning the 2022 U.S. Open – but is his win pure luck or raw talent?

Photo Courtesy / YouTube US Open Tennis Championships

For years, men’s tennis has felt like a broken record – Rafael Nadal wins the U.S. Open, then  Roger Federer wins five years in a row, then Novak Djokovic steals the win. And while Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have become prominent names in the tennis world, they’ve been holding it hostage. Since these three extraordinary tennis players emerged, and raised the standards of tennis play to seemingly impossible heights, there has not been a player to threaten their positions by nipping at their heels – until now. 

Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old Spaniard, has made his name known as the youngest male tennis player to secure No. 1 after winning the U.S. Open. Alcaraz has humble beginnings, as he did not train professionally as a young kid. Despite his inexperience at Grand Slams, a day after his 19th birthday at the Madrid open, Alcaraz defeated the 5-time Madrid champion, world No. 4 and third seed, Nadal. Winning this quarterfinal match secured  his fame as he became the first teenager to beat the “King of Clay.” The next day, Alcaraz beat top seed and world No. 1 Djokovic in the semifinals, globalizing his popularity by becoming the youngest player since 2004 to win a match against the world No. 1. Not only did he defeat both Nadal and Djokovic, but he also became the first player to ever beat them both back-to-back on clay. 

This quick rise to fame in the tennis world has shown through the fan-based nickname given to Alcaraz: ‘the next Nadal.’ Both players have uncanny similarities; they entered the top ten at the same age, after the same tournament, and even on the exact same day. Nadal also won his first major at the age of 19 at the 2005 French Open. However, Alcaraz himself is keen to avoid comparisons with Nadal. “I don’t like being compared to Nadal, but if they compare me to him, it’s that I’m doing something right,” Alcaraz tells the circling Spanish media

However, the timing of his coronation is questionable to some; the media attributed Alcaraz’s win to pure luck. Nadal had an extremely limited schedule due to a series of injuries, Federer was previously rehabbing his knee — but has just announced his retirement from the sport —  and Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated for COVID-19, alongside his win at Wimbledon earning him no ranking points, all allowed Alcaraz to secure the No. 1 spot. 

Despite this, Alcaraz’s win is no fluke: he is a strong-hitting power player that is unafraid to take risks. He possesses incredible agility and accuracy on the court, using a two-handed backhand in order to attack both down the line and cross-court. 

“It’s not just foot speed, it’s footwork. The way he manages the court and reacts to anything short and just gets back into it on the court. He moves so well in the corners, gets in and out of them and takes the offensive so quickly. He’s a marvel,” said Mary Carillo, a tennis broadcaster for NBC

At just 19 years of age, Alcaraz completed three consecutive late-night marathons prior to the U.S. Open. He beat three individuals in five sets before defeating Casper Ruud in the finals, becoming the third man in the Open era to win a major after winning three consecutive five-setters. He did so using his ever-present quickness and timing, displaying his phenomenal ability to adapt on the fly and his rare capacity to make a risky play and have it pay off. 

Despite his inexperience at Grand Slams and three consecutive five-set matches leading up to the finals, Alcaraz handled the pressure like a seasoned professional, producing some of his best tennis.

The performance even caught the eye of his Spanish competitor. “I think he has all the ingredients to become an amazing champion,” Nadal told a Planet Sports reporter. He continued to support the young Spaniard, tweeting: “Congratulations Carlos Alcaraz for your first Grand Slam and [world] No. 1, which tops off your first great season, which I am sure will be the first of many.” 

The next generation of superstar tennis players is raring and ready to go.