So capricious is fate, that suddenly, as if from a script hollywood It was, suddenly unites yesterday and today, the splendorous halo of Rafael Nadal and everything that drags behind him, with that sweet tomorrow that Carlos Alcaraz’s modern tennis represents. Both will be measured this afternoon (third shift of the session that starts at 11.00, Teledeporte) in the headquarters of the Caja Mágica, precisely the day in which the Murcian, already as the youngest tennis player who has managed to win a match in the Madrid tournament, turns 18. It is May 5, 2021, a date that is probably worth remembering. The legend against the boy who promises, called to fill a future that with him paints differently. What until not long ago looked black, now has another color. Time will tell.
“My dream has always been to be number one and every time I came to Madrid I had sharp teeth. I wanted to pick up a racket and jump onto the court. Playing against Rafa is very special, it is a dream come true ”, said on Monday Alcaraz, who walks from one place to another with a smile from ear to ear, discovering, tasting, chewing the one that comes to him because he, a kid folksy and hardworking, he is called to pick up the baton. Yes, feet on the ground. “It comes from behind but not to replace, but to somehow give continuity. Hopefully he will be a player that allows us to continue winning great tournaments ”, qualifies for EL PAÍS his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Since the Alcaraz name began to sound, all the buzz that surrounds the young tennis player, the coach has been trying to get the boy to assume with relative normality what he has already gone through: exceptionality. In his case, the explosion came with the 2000 Davis Cup, after that day at La Cartuja against Lleyton Hewitt. The one in Alcaraz is being a more progressive takeoff, perhaps more programmed, although at the stroke of precocity. “He has to get used to this type of situation and the sooner we normalize it, the better,” says the coach, satisfied with the release of his player in a setting of magnitude like Madrid, a true Masters 1000.
Two days ago, Alcaraz brought down Mannarino, 34th in the world and 15 years older. Many were surprised; those who closely follow its evolution, no. “He came out with a lot of determination, on a day that was not easy because he played here, in the center, after all that is being said about him… Giving a good level was not easy, and he played calmly and boldly, very loosely . I think he managed to play at a very good level. He put two or three gears more than the rival, in terms of speed and rhythm, and he went over the top. The difficult thing is that he knew how to maintain that level from the beginning to the end, and that is the most complicated at this point ”, values Ferrero, who has been guarding him for two years. Then, the multinational IMG decided that the former number one was the ideal beacon for the Murcian, trophy after trophy in the lower categories and that step by step he is responding to the expectations he generates.
Without going any further, at 18 years old he has eight triumphs on the ATP circuit; two more than Roger Federer (6), three more than another talent such as Juan Martín del Potro (5) and ahead of other young people who have established themselves in the elite of world tennis, such as Alexander Zverev or Andrey Rublev (5). “Little by little he is gaining experience. Exceeded qualifying in Australia [cayó luego en la segunda ronda, contra Michael Ymer], and in every tournament we go to, he’s meeting top-level players. You want it not, training every day with people of that profile makes you better and makes him see that he can be up to par. That is, not only the competition matters, but also the day to day. That is helping it a lot to grow, ”explains Ferrero, winner of Roland Garros in 2003 and a finalist in the US Open that same year.
Last year, at the age of 16, Alcaraz achieved his first ATP victory and at the end, at 17, he was elected revelation player; two behind, at 14, he got his first point. It now ranks 114th in the ranking, and sooner or later he will enter the top 100 with some pedigree victories in his pocket, like the one he signed against David Goffin (14th) in Melbourne. “We are accumulating kilometers in tournaments”, Ferrero emphasizes, and the progress is palpable. “It is improving with the service [ante Mannarino llegó a servir a 217 kilómetros por hora] and physically he has improved a lot. If you gain confidence, there you have a good whip to loosen your arm, ”adds the 41-year-old coach.
Physical development is also being a determining factor in take-off. The daily sessions in Villena with his coach, Alberto Lledó, have allowed him to gain muscle mass, an essential aspect to resist challenges such as the one Nadal will present him today. “It is a very special game for him. In the end, Carlos has admired him since he was a child. It is played here, in the Caja Mágica, against the background of the generational duel … Everything has come together a little. I think it is a match from which, once it is over, you will be able to draw many conclusions to learn, but while you are on the court you must try to go to the death for it, with respect but without fear. You must go out to win. It is going to be one more step. Rafa subjects you all the time to a very high intensity, and compete absolutely at all points; that, for the youngest, is the most difficult because they are not used to it ”, says Ferrero.
He and his player spend the dead hours of the Madrid bubble playing chess (the coach wins), while the fan rubs their hands before an appointment that appears as a temporary hinge: the immensity of Nadal against the intrepid Alcaraz. Fate brings them together for the first time.