After playing three matches in just over 24 hours to win the Rio Open in February, Carlos Alcaraz has now won the Barcelona Open by playing two matches – the semifinal and final – in one day, or less than 12 hours. Increasingly, the conviction is growing that such is the astonishing physical and mental endurance of the young Spaniard, who is still only 18, that he could play an entire tournament – perhaps even a Major – in a single day.
Carlos Alcaraz In Excellent Form
Triumph In Barcelona
If that is an exaggeration, it is only a slight one, given that Alcaraz continues to amaze with his almost Herculean achievements. After the rain in Spain fell mostly in Barcelona at the end of last week and then again on Saturday, Alcaraz had to complete his semifinal against Australia’s Alex de Minaur early on Sunday before facing the winner of the other semifinal (between his compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta and Argentina’s Diego Schwarzman) in the final just a few hours later.
That should have been a daunting challenge, both physically and mentally, for any player, let alone one as young as Alcaraz, yet, like everything else in his young career so far, he seemed to take it completely – indeed, almost effortlessly – in his stride. Despite narrowly losing the first set against de Minaur on a tie-break (7-4), Alcaraz rallied magnificently in the next two equally hard-fought sets. First, he won the second set tie-break by the same score, then he matched de Minaur, who, being a typical never-say-die Australian, is himself one of the most competitive players on the ATP Tour, game for game in the third set before he finally broke him late on to win 6-4.
Then, even though Carreno Busta had enjoyed a much more comfortable semifinal victory over Schwarzman, coming through in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, Alcaraz virtually brushed aside his older and vastly more experienced fellow Spaniard in straight sets in the final, winning 6-3, 6-2. Finally, as if to remind everyone that he is still only 18 (he will turn 19 on 5 May), he proceeded to follow the traditional winner’s route at Barcelona by jumping into a swimming pool, only, unlike most winners, he invited all the ball kids (most of whom are only a little younger than he is) to join him in the water.
Doubling Down On His Rio Exploits
Incredibly, playing two matches in a single day to win an ATP event is not new territory for Alcaraz. Indeed, his victory in Barcelona can almost be regarded as his doubling down on his extraordinary performance in Rio de Janeiro just over two months ago. Then, unseasonably heavy rain had also fallen on the Brazilian capital (anyone who continues to doubt the existence of climate change need only follow the ATP Tour to be convinced otherwise), meaning that he effectively had to play three matches – the quarterfinal, semifinal and final – in just over 24 hours.
That is an almighty challenge for any tennis player, let alone such a young one. However, just as in Barcelona, Alcaraz appeared almost completely unperturbed as he powered through the three matches to win his first ATP250 title. Of course, what makes these runs in Barcelona and Rio, not to mention the maiden ATP Masters 1000 triumph in Miami that came in between them, so noteworthy is the quality of opponent that Alcaraz is dispatching with almost contemptuous ease. (The endlessly charming Alcaraz is himself seemingly incapable of ever being contemptuous, but his masterful tennis most certainly is.)
In Rio, he beat three current or former top 10 players (Matteo Berrettini, Fabio Fognini and Diego Schwarzman) in succession; in Miami, he beat three current top 10 players (Stefanos Tsitsipas, Hugo Hurkacz and Casper Ruud) to triumph; and in Barcelona he began his wondrous final weekend by again beating Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No.5 who was fresh from retaining his Monte Carlo title, to make it a hat-trick of victories in his three matches against the swashbuckling Greek.
Beating such an impressive series of opponents in a single week, or even (as in Rio) in a single day, is probably the biggest testament to Alcaraz’s extraordinary ability as a tennis player. It also strongly suggests that he already has everything that is required to compete for and even win a Major, perhaps starting as early as Roland Garros next month.
And He’s Not Only Physically Resilient
In addition to his obvious physical strength and stamina, Alcaraz also possesses the steel-trap mind of a champion. Even in this incredible spring 2022 surge that has seen him win three tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic in just over two months, he has not been absolutely perfect on court, even submitting occasionally to the kind of sustained lapses in concentration that are typical of a young player.
For example, in his first match in Barcelona last week, Alcaraz was virtually bagelled in his second set against South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo, as he lost six games in a row to lose it 6-2. However, whereas most young players would have been troubled if not completely thrown off track by such a disastrous spell of form, Alcaraz, like all the greatest tennis players ever, seems to have the kind of instant amnesia that allows him to forget immediately even awful sets and win the next one, which he duly did against Kwon Soon-woo 6-2.
For all his other phenomenal attributes – the baseline domination of a Nadal or Safin, the volleying ability of a Federer or Sampras, and the sheer mobility and indefatigability of a Djokovic or Hewitt – it is this outstanding and almost unique combination of physical and mental endurance that sets Alcaraz apart from most other players, including his peers. Jannik Sinner, who is a year older than Alcaraz, is yet to win a Masters 1000 event (he reached the final in Miami last year, but lost to Hubert Hurkacz) and is already showing some of the “growing pains” associated with young players, as he has had to withdraw from several tournaments recently, including Indian Wells and Barcelona, because of injury. By contrast, Alcaraz appears to have arrived almost fully formed and fully grown, both physically and mentally.
Alcaraz Could Be One Of The Greatest Young Sportspeople Ever
So vertiginous has been Alcaraz’s rise to the top of men’s tennis, and victory in Barcelona confirmed his entry to the world’s top 10 for the first time, that he already invites comparison with the greatest young athletes there have ever been, not just in tennis but in all of sport.
In tennis, although Boris Becker and Rafael Nadal were both younger than Alcaraz is now when they won their first Major, it is arguable that Alcaraz is already a more complete player, which includes being able to play on all surfaces, than those two titans were at the age he is now. And in sport in general, it is only the truly exceptional stars who break through at the youngest possible age to compete for or win the greatest prizes – such as Pele, Leonel Messi and Kylian Mbappé in football, or Jonah Lomu in rugby union – who Alcaraz can be directly compared with.
Indeed, such is Alcaraz’s stunningly rapid ascent to the top of men’s tennis that it may be that the only two players who can stop him at the French Open are the two men who have dominated it for the last 20 years, namely Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. However, Nadal is still recovering from the broken rib that he sustained in beating Alcaraz at Indian Wells (an injury that looks like an increasingly powerful metaphor for the lengths Nadal has to go to in order to hold off his rapidly rising compatriot).
Djokovic, meanwhile, looked rusty as he lost the Belgrade Open final to Andrey Rublev (which included a most uncharacteristic bagelling in the third set). It is possible that Alcaraz will arrive in Paris in the best form and best fitness of the three. Then, as I have written before, it could be a battle for the ages between two different ages of men’s tennis: the surviving “Big Two” of Nadal and Djokovic against the potential “Big One” of the future, Carlos Alcaraz. And if Alcaraz should win, then his place in the pantheon of youthful sporting stars will be secured forever.
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