18-year-old wunderkind Carlos Alcaraz drew the seemingly tougher group at the 2021 NextGen Finals. Holger Rune and Brandon Nakashima have already won Challenger events indoors this year with the clay-court specialist Juan Manuel Cerundolo standing as the outsider that was rather unlikely to qualify. Seeing the latter eliminated after the first two days and Alcaraz already qualified for the semifinals wasn’t that much of a surprise. It’s the manner in which the Spaniard dismantled the two very dangerous opponents that had him make headlines yet again.
Often compared to Rafael Nadal (for literally no reason other than being a teenage prodigy Spaniard who likes wearing sleeveless shirts), Alcaraz himself has said he models his game after Roger Federer’s. The thing the two have in common is always looking for the opportunity to attack. While the 18-year-old’s background is a lot more clay-oriented, the aggressive style is what pays off in the rather fast indoor conditions at Milan. Alcaraz had just eight professional matches under the roof coming into this event (all this year), but it’s been clear from the get-go that the relative lack of experience is not going to be an issue.
Serve improvements, unbelievable pace
While sometimes regarded as a liability, on the quick surface Alcaraz’s first serve becomes a massive weapon. Especially against Rune and Nakashima, the 18-year-old was just barely dropping points on his own delivery (28/32 first serve points won against the former, 29/33 against the latter). Even in the match against Cerundolo, where due to the Argentinian’s playing style serving wasn’t of such importance, it was the clutch factor of it that gave Alcaraz the victory. He was able to save nine out of ten break points, finding the first serve on every single one.
It seems like, with every new week, more and more holes in the Spaniard’s game are simply getting covered. The forehand has been just as stunning as usual in Milan so far, but it’s the improvement on his weaker wing that makes Alcaraz such a tricky customer now. Maintaining that rapid pace from both wings gives his opponents very little time to breathe.
Net play, variety
He’s also been mixing that big game from the baseline with very efficient approaches to the net. 39/51 in the forecourt so far, finishing the points that way was essential to his win over Cerundolo as Alcaraz took 20 (28%) of his total points won this way. The Spaniard has done a brilliant job at keeping the opponents guessing too, mixing his huge power with the trademark forehand dropshot.
Adding to that his insane court coverage and reaction shots like in this astounding point, Alcaraz looks clearly ahead of the pack at the moment. The 18-year-old has been breaking age records ever since he first showed up on tour, reaching an ITF quarterfinal at the age of 14. With an ATP ranking of #32, the Spaniard seems in a prime position to not only win the NextGen Finals, but go even bigger next year.
Main Photo from Getty.