After a magical week at the Madrid Open, hometown boy and 19-year old Carlos Alcaraz-Garfia must be installed as one of the strong favorites for the French Open that starts on May 16, the main draw commencing on the 22nd. Regardless of what happens in Rome this week, Alcaraz annexing his second Masters 1000 title in the manner that he did, must be sending chills down the back of all the New Gen players, and the younger wanna-be contenders. This Carlos has left his calling card, and it will not be ignored.
Think of it, first Alcaraz defeats his idol and fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal over three sets in the Quarter-Final, then pulls out a tense three set victory in the Semi-Final against Novak Djokovic. The Finals, with Madrid defending champion Alexander Zverev on the opposite end, was an anti-climatic two straight set victory. It’s Alcaraz’ fourth title this year, and undoubtedly, he’s the most in-form player of the moment.
Hard to believe that just a year ago, Alcaraz was ranked #120 in the world. I’d watch his matches and was impressed; but also saw chinks in his mental preparedness, as I’d see him throw away matches he should have easily won. Well, coach Juan Carlos Ferrero must have seen these chinks as well, and has been effective in turning things around. So many players on the tour are oozing with natural talent, but it’s whether they’re match fit, physically and mentally, that separates the champions from the journeymen.
If Alcaraz takes the French Open, that would be some form of poetic justice for the youngster and his coach Ferrero. Ferrero’s one Slam win in his storied career was the 2003 French Open. What is ironic is that the power game of Alcaraz is the one thing Ferrero never truly had, as Ferrero was more about speed and retrieving everything. Slender of build, Ferrero was even nicknamed the Mosquito for his persistence and court coverage. It is nice to note that soft, drop shots and staying in the rallies is part of the game that Alcaraz now has in spades. He was using this effectively in his match against Djokovic.
With his Madrid victory, and with the wins this year in Miami & Barcelona; when the rankings are released this week, Alcaraz will have moved up to #6 in the world. That’s some meteoric rise for this 19-year old, and it augurs well for the Spaniard as he tries to emulate his boyhood idol Rafael Nadal. His improvement within a year is certainly impressive, and it’s the newfound confidence that he brings on the court that can’t be denied.
Djokovic in his press conference after his Semi’s defeat, said he was extremely happy with his progress heading to the French Open, where he’s defending the second French Open crown he gained last year. Nadal was playing extremely well at the start of the year, with his 21st Slam win at the Australian Open. But once again, injuries and age may be catching with this warrior. I would love to watch Nadal annex a 22nd Slam title; but if that really isn’t to be, it would be wonderful watching a 19-year old take his first step in collecting Slam titles. Alcaraz has the game to excel in most surfaces, so it’s just a matter of time as to when he makes that Grand Slam breakthrough.
In French Open history, Nadal has been undisputed King since 2005, as he’s collected 13 French titles to date. Djokovic has taken 2 during the ‘Nadal reign’, while Swiss tennis stars Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka have each taken one each. No matter who comes out on top at this year’s edition, some kind of tennis history will be made.