Carlos Alcaraz has the chance to fulfil his destiny in a clash of generations against Novak Djokovic

new balance


Carlos Alcaraz was only four years old taking his first racket swings in El Palmar, the surfing capital of Andalucia, when Novak Djokovic featured in his first Grand Slam final and was beaten by Roger Federer at the 2007 US Open.

If the Spaniard’s father Carlos Sr, a tennis coach whose own professional ambitions were thwarted by a lack of funding, had high hopes for his budding genius, even he must be staggered about how quickly it has happened.

As a boy of 13, Alcaraz sounded precocious declaring he wanted to join his hero Rafa Nadal among the world’s elite, but aged 20 he has already exceeded expectations; world No1, US Open champion and now about to compete for the biggest prize in his sport, the Wimbledon title.

A pair of tickets for his showdown with Serbia’s 23-time Grand Slam champion were on Saturday going for £25,000, an indication of how this clash of generations is being anticipated.

Fittingly for a Real Madrid fan, Alcaraz appears to be a Galactico in a hurry and possibly the only person not taken aback by the speed of his accomplishments.

Carlos Alcaraz is bidding to win Wimbledon for the first time ever and etch his name into history

Carlos Alcaraz is bidding to win Wimbledon for the first time ever and etch his name into history

He was just four years old when his opponent on Sunday, Novak Djokovic, was in his first Grand Slam final

He was just four years old when his opponent on Sunday, Novak Djokovic, was in his first Grand Slam final

The Serb is bidding to win his fifth title in a row but could face a passing of the torch moment

The Serb is bidding to win his fifth title in a row but could face a passing of the torch moment

‘Honestly, I’m not surprised. I know my skills,’ he says as the trappings of success start to come in, from becoming a brand ambassador for fashion leaders Louis Vuitton to a mural being unveiled in his honour in his village outside Murcia.

See also  Andy Murray in ‘pretty good place’ physically on Australian Open return | Andy Murray

‘I feel like I belong in these type of situations like a Wimbledon final. I’m not afraid, I’m really looking forward to playing.’

As a young kid, the bills for Alcaraz to participate in important overseas junior tournaments were paid by local businessman Alfonso Rueda, whose food company Postres Reina specialised in cakes and yoghurt.

‘He has become part of our family ever since,’ says Rueda, whose helping hand will never be forgotten by Alcaraz, given his dad’s frustration about not getting on tour due to lack of finances.

‘My father couldn’t turn pro. He couldn’t pursue his dream to be a professional tennis player,’ says Alcaraz. ‘It was different times then. Old times. I would say it was tougher to get deep into tennis and he couldn’t.’

Alcaraz’s potential was clear enough to get him spotted and signed up by agency giants IMG aged 11. Two years later came a pivotal first meeting with Juan Carlos Ferrero, the former Spanish Grand Slam champion and world No1 who later became his coach.

Alcaraz's coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, says the Spaniard could do things no one else could do as a youngster

Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, says the Spaniard could do things no one else could do as a youngster

He has worked on Alcaraz's physical conditioning and steered him away from comparisons with his hero, Raphael Nadal

He has worked on Alcaraz’s physical conditioning and steered him away from comparisons with his hero, Raphael Nadal

‘Carlos played in a tournament at my academy against guys two or three years older and his level was amazing,’ says Ferrero.

‘He could do things other 12 and 13-year-olds couldn’t. He could chip and charge, go to the net, stay and play aggressive. When I finished my job with [Alex] Zverev, I was invited to work with him. His forehand was very fast, there was nobody else doing winners like that at his age. He was different.’

See also  Australian Open boss explains why 4am finish for Murray vs Kokkinakis was unavoidable

There were still some rough edges to iron out, though. Any fears were over Alcaraz’s temperament rather than talent. Back home in southern Spain they recalled him crying or losing his temper when he lost.

Ferrero worked on Alcaraz’s physical conditioning at his Equelite centre of excellence in Alicante and tried to steer him away from direct comparisons with the youngster’s hero, Nadal, believing his more naturally attacking style was more in keeping with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

At 16, the secret about Alcaraz was well and truly out when he beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Rio to become the youngest winner of an ATP 500 match since Nadal.

Alcaraz has already beaten his countryman Nadal in his career and is looking to take the scalp of Djokovic on the biggest stage

Alcaraz has already beaten his countryman Nadal in his career and is looking to take the scalp of Djokovic on the biggest stage

The Spaniard is known for being emotional on court, something he will have to control on Sunday

The Spaniard is known for being emotional on court, something he will have to control on Sunday

Ferrero regarded it as a significant moment. ‘At 16, you can’t control emotions. I knew he had the level but wasn’t sure if he could cope with the pressure and the respected name against him.

‘My job was to try and calm him in difficult moments but I also said to him, if you are close to winning, be aggressive. Don’t stay and wait for the other player.’

After beating Casper Ruud to win the US Open last year, Alcaraz celebrated by watching his beloved Madrid and having his picture taken with the “other Galacticos” such as Carlos Vinicius Jr and Luka Modric.

See also  Andy Murray secures 6-3, 6-2 victory over Nuno Borges to reach the final of the Rothesay Open

The mind also gets a work-out alongside the body with long games of chess with his grandad, also called Carlos. Those battles have been credited with improving his concentration on court.

A rare blip in his ascent was his semi-final defeat by Djokovic at the French Open in June when he suffered with cramp. ‘I’ll try not to go on court with as many nerves,’ he says. ‘This is probably going to be the best moment of my life.’

He said as a 13-year-old that he wanted to be in the top 10 in the world - now, he's No 1

He said as a 13-year-old that he wanted to be in the top 10 in the world – now, he’s No 1

Andalucia will come to a standstill when Alcaraz enters Centre Court, particularly at the Real Sociedad Club de Campo tennis club, where he hit his first balls under the watchful eye of dad.

It feels like a long time ago when 13-year-old Alcaraz proclaimed in one of his first interviews: ‘My hero is Rafa Nadal. I want to be in the top 10 in the world.’

He is the same age now as Djokovic was at his first Grand Slam final and it is credit to the Serbian’s longevity that he remains the man to beat as he bids for an eighth Wimbledon title.

Alcaraz describes Djokovic as a ‘beast’ and is aware his own grass-court experience is limited to a few tournaments in comparison. Even so, he will not treat this final as a free hit. The Spaniard is ready.

new balance



Source link