If you aren’t a huge tennis fan the likelihood is the first time you’ve seen and maybe even heard of Carlos Alcaraz is at this year’s US Open and boy do you know him now! Beating world #3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in a final set tiebreak is unreal and there’s so much good to take out of the event no matter how it ends now. This is why this Spaniard might indeed just be the future of the sport.
Firstly, let’s start with Alcaraz’s age, he’s only 18 and even then he’s a good eight months away from turning 19, in fact he was the youngest player to even start this event in New York. When someone is that young you wouldn’t expect them to be competing with the top guys, winning an ATP title and winning several matches at Grand Slams, but that’s exactly what Alcaraz has produced just this year.
The most impressive thing about all this is how he’s just gone about it all this year and let’s take a brief look at it. Starting the year ranked 146 in the world those who had heard of the talented teenager knew he would rise up the rankings but no one perhaps this much. Qualifying in Melbourne for the Australian Open was just the start before a second round loss, a great result in his first Grand Slam.
Things unfortunately tailed off after that with first round losses in almost every event including to players ranked outside the top 150. But that’s what makes this more impressive, despite all that the game kept clicking together in places and a semi-final at home in Marbella was reaffirmation that despite the bad there was enough good that just needed to come together. That’s exactly what happened before winning a Challenger event on the clay before qualifying for Roland Garros and having a dream run into the last 32.
Since Roland Garros things have been fairly inconsistent again, but what 18 year old has ever been consistent over all the surfaces? Perhaps none since Rafael Nadal all those years ago. But either way he won a match at Wimbledon and more importantly won his first title in Umag beating former top ten player Richard Gasquet in the final to become the youngest ATP Tour title winner since Kei Nishikori in 2008.
Automatically getting into the US Open he then won another three matches at a Grand Slam becoming the fifth youngest player to win matches in all four Grand Slams and the youngest since current world #1 Novak Djokovic to make round three of two majors in the same year. Of course we all know how the run is going having just beat world #3 Stefanos Tsitsipas as mentioned several times! He’s now the youngest player in the second week here since Michael Chang in the late 80s!
Now we’ve got a brief history of Alcaraz’s rise out of the way, let’s look at why the Spaniard is so good for his age and potentially the future of this sport whilst also looking at what might hold him back the older and better he gets.
When it comes to the good, there’s so much to admire. The serve is good and even at 18 years old he’s already able to clock 134mph, how many can say that? Then you have his forehand which can be absolutely devastating at times with the speed and flatness he is able to hit, it’s the nearest thing I’ve seen to peak Del Potro’s forehand in quite some time.
Add to all of this a backhand which can change direction well and also blast through the court, the whole ground game is killer. Think there’s not more to love, there is, he’s more than happy to come to net when balls drop short and hit drop shots when he forces opponents behind the baseline, opponents just don’t know what’s coming!
Even mentally despite getting destroyed by top players Zverev, Nadal and Medvedev over the course of the year it would have been easy to fold against Tsitsipas and not believing he was good enough against them at this very moment in time. Instead he came out all guns blazing against the Greek and even despite being 2-5* 15-40 down in the third set kept fighting and believing he could win the set, which he did! How many players let alone teenagers would have the belief to come out playing like that let alone from the scoreline he found himself in several times? It’s unreal mental skills to say the least, even in the fifth and final set when struggling he never stopped believing and somehow managed to take it in a final set tiebreak. The whole game is simply complete, far more complete than it should be for an 18 year old.
However, as complete as he may be, there’s edges which obviously exist for someone so raw and fresh. The serve is good but technically there’s a weird pause in the trophy stance which both Jim Courier and Mark Petchey highlighted as potentially holding the serve back from being great. Whether or not this holds the serve back and if fixing it potentially means a step back before two steps forward is yet to be known. If it is going to be fixed though you would think the sooner rather than later would be key.
Then there’s the fitness, despite a great five set win in his first Wimbledon match against Uchiyama and here against Tsitsipas, it’s just not there yet, and for an 18 year old it’s understandable. After the epic third set the Spaniard clearly felt somewhat fatigured, the legs stopped working on the serve which led to slower speeds and the movement slowly diminished against the Greek despite crawling his way to a win.
The last issue is how consistent he is. As you can see by now his year has been full of great results but also a lot of bad ones but he’s also incredibly inconsistent during matches which isn’t ideal. Just taking the Tsitsipas match out for example he was incredible for the first hour blasting forehand winners all over the place, for the next hour however it was the polar opposite and that’s perhaps where he could have lost this match, by letting the 23 year old back in the match when a set and break up. Thankfully for his sake he did not.
It’s no doubt all a learning experience but what’s there is so good right now and as he improves, which he will, I firmly believe we’re looking at a future top five player and Grand Slam champion. With someone like former world #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero as his coach and seeing the wonders he’s already produced there’s no reason for me to think the trend won’t continue. From starting 2020 at 490, he started 2021 at 146 and is currently just outside the top 50. The sky is the limit and the only way for Alcaraz is up.