The Mistake of Comparing Young Talents to Nadal, Djokovic, or Federer

Laver Cup Djokovic Federer Nadal

How many times did you hear someone comparing a young talent to a member of “the Big 3”? We’ve all heard it plenty, and none of those times was true because they are unique players. That’s why comparing young talents to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, or ROger Federer is a mistake.

Nonetheless, some people tend to do that. It seems as they need to make those comparisons to receive more visitors to their articles or more clicks to their Youtube videos. I feel that we have reached a point where these kinds of comparisons are so frequent that tennis talent is trivialized.

The Success Triangle of Tennis: Talent, Mind, and Hard Work

There were many young talents that never reached the top of the rankings. Some people call them “wasted talents,” which seems a bit unfair to me. Names like Bernard Tomic, Ernests Gulbis, or Nick Kyrgios are commonly cited as examples of players that could have achieved a lot more in tennis. But tennis requires a lot more than talent to be successful. You need also hard work and mental strength to overcome the pressure of being at the top. It is like the success triangle of tennis.

And this triangle is so true that sometimes talented players who work very hard never achieve their ambitious goals. If we take into account the injuries, that triangle becomes a square, but being healthy not depends only on players. Most of the time suffering injuries is out of their control.

From Being Called “The New Nadal” To Have An Early Retirement

There were many comparisons between young talents and tennis legends. However, in this article, I will focus on comparisons to Rafael Nadal. Recently I read a heartbreaking letter that Carlos Boluda shared with Eurosport. Boluda used to be compared to Nadal in his early years, but he recently retired at only 27 years old. But why did he retire from tennis so early?

Well, he suffered a big wrist injury in 2011 when he was just 18 years old. He lost his best shot, the forehand, and he knew that he would never be the same tennis player after that injury. However, back then there were big expectations around him and the pressure was very high. That pressure caused him major anxiety.

Boluda was the first boy to win a premier junior tennis tournament called “Les Petis As” twice. It is a prestigious tournament for young players between 12 and 14 years old. Great tennis legends like Rafael Nadal or Michael Chang also won that tournament.

But winning so much when you are still a kid can be a double-edged weapon. “My environment went crazy, they wanted to isolate me in a bubble and push me to go through the life of a professional. They wanted to turn me into an adult at only 15 years old. My head began to feel things that it had never felt before: Pressure,” explains Boluda in his letter.

When the expectations are set so high it is not easy to manage the pressure, especially if you are still a kid. That early pressure tests you in a very cruel way. “That demand for a child is deadly, neither my environment nor myself were prepared to face everything that was generated around me,” says Boluda.

Boluda defines his relationship with tennis as a love/hate relationship. However, the truth is that he loves it madly and that’s why he will continue working as a tennis coach.

Carlos Alcaraz: We Keep Comparing Young Talents To Nadal

Nevertheless, some media keep comparing young Spanish talents to Rafael Nadal. The last example is Carlos Alcaraz, who has been named Newcomer of the Year. He is only 17 years old and he qualified for the 2021 Australian Open, being the first man born in 2003 to take part in this Grand Slam.

If you search for “Carlos Alcaraz” on Youtube, you will find several allusions to Rafael Nadal. “The new Rafael Nadal” or “Spain’s Next Nadal” are just two examples of videos comparing Alcaraz to Nadal on this platform. For sure, there are also many articles on the internet talking about it. You just need to Google it and several results will appear. But what is the reason for comparing young talents to big tennis legends? To receive more visits? To be the first to say it feel like a visionary?

Carlos Alcaraz and his team know very well how harmful huge expectations can be to young players. Especially in a country like Spain, where the name of Rafael Nadal outshines the rest of the players in the press headlines. Which is understandable knowing his amazing achievements in tennis.

When asked for his future, Alcaraz says, “I don’t want to compare myself to Rafa Nadal.” At the same time, his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero tends to be very cautious when asked for his player. “We have to go calmly and transmit that to Carlos,” said Ferrero in an interview some days ago. Besides that, when it comes to the game style, he is quite different from Rafael Nadal. “If I have to say someone that I can compare him to, it’s the game of Novak Djokovic or maybe Roger Federer,” says Ferrero.

In any case, it’s okay to compare some player’s games, but comparing young talents to Nadal, Federer, or Djokovic’s careers can be a huge mistake. They are unique players and 99% of the times that someone makes that kind of comparison it never ends up being true.

Main Photo from Getty.


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