Nadal, who won his first Grand Slam as a 19-year-old at the 2005 French Open, is the player people simply can’t refrain from comparing with Alcaraz. If the words “Spain” and “tennis” are put anywhere near each other in a sentence, all roads lead to Rafa. While the idea of Nadal as Alcaraz’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is a nice one, it doesn’t exist. Alcaraz doesn’t turn to any of the Big Three for advice. Juan Carlos Ferrero, his coach, a former world No. 1 and the 2003 French Open men’s champion, guides him through everything he needs to know. The country has a healthy pipeline of talented players beyond Rafa, too, some of whom Alcaraz idolized growing up, and some with whom he still competes with now––Pablo Andújar, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Pablo Carreño Busta.
Alcaraz lives and trains at the JC Ferrero Equelite Sport Academy in Alicante, Spain. The academy is about an hour’s drive from his house, so on his days off, he goes to see his family, where he is regarded as the teenager he still is. “When we’re at home, my parents tell me what I have to do. You know––‘Do this, do that,’ just normal parent-kid stuff. I’m normal.” He shrugs. “I’m a normal guy.” Moments after his win over Ruud, Alcaraz dashed to the stands and spidey-climbed to get to the group in his box. They wrapped him in a huddle, before he hugged each of them, one at a time.
There is something transcendent, already, about the way Alcaraz moves across the court and the way he plays the game. His real-time strategy, his execution, his net game, his drop shots. It’s shocking. This isn’t hyperbole. He’s been on a steady ascent through the rankings since he made his ATP tour debut in February of 2020, when he was 16. What began as an escalator became a rocket ship.
There are other players who are just as fast, Australia’s Alex de Minaur, for example, and there are other guys who win––Medvedev, Nick Kyrgios. But with them, at least to the casual observer, there’s stuff to work on––regular tennis things like attitude, playing style, consistency. Alcaraz, for now, plays like a magician, and a serial killer.
In the fourth round of the tournament, he beat 2014 champion Marin Čilić in the first of what would be three straight five set matches on his way to the final. Next up, it was the quarterfinals against Italy’s young gun Jannik Sinner that went five sets, five hours, and past everyone’s bedtime. Alcaraz won the first set and in the 12th game of the second, delivered a behind-the-back forehand so preposterous it bordered on obscene. The shot wasn’t a beautiful accident. He’d sprinted across the baseline to Sinner’s ball in time enough to realize what he needed to do. He paused, jumped, and flipped his wrist to place it. Dagger and whimsy, in a fraction of a millisecond. If Alcaraz were a tennis-playing cartoon, this is the shot the animators would use to sequence his game. It was so unbelievable, the impossibility of what happened next was muted. There was a full, abrupt change in momentum, a split step, and supersonic sprint to the service line for a backhand to end the point. The commentators couldn’t contain their enthusiasm. A camera cut to Ferrero, on his feet, chuckling, a “What are you gonna do?” dad expression on his face.