Carlos Alcaraz, at 19, Is a Favourite on the French Open

PARIS—When the longer term no. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero was 19, he got here to Roland Garros for the 1999 French Open qualifying match and misplaced within the first spherical.

His pupil, Carlos Alcaraz, is on a extra accelerated timetable. At 19, Alcaraz has arrived in Paris because the No. 6 seed in the primary draw and one of many clear favorites.

Along with his all-action fashion, Alcaraz, the emotive Spanish teenager, performs as if plugged into some renewable supply of power and already has gained 4 titles this season. He beat Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic back-to-back on crimson clay in nerve-jangling duels in Madrid that appeared as a lot a tribute to Alcaraz’s urge for food for fight as to his incandescent expertise.

On Friday, two days earlier than the beginning of the French Open, a photograph of Alcaraz, roaring along with his proper fist clenched, occupied almost all of the area on the entrance web page of L’Équipe, the main French sports activities publication.

The phrase is justifiably out. Now, it’s time to be taught whether or not Alcaraz, who’s within the prime half of a top-heavy males’s draw, can handle the second and the grind of best-of-five-set matches in simply his sixth Grand Slam match.

“If the whole lot stays regular, and there’s no damage, I believe he’s completely prepared for one of the best of 5,” Ferrero mentioned in an interview this week. He added: “His character on the court docket is so large. He likes to go for the large factors and for the large second and is likely one of the few guys that you could see who’s like this.”

For the reason that Huge Three — Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer — took collective command of the boys’s recreation within the late 2000s, that is the primary time {that a} next-generation participant has come into a significant males’s match with this degree of buzz and momentum.

“It appears to me, he is not feeling the stress, however let’s have a look at when the time comes,” Ferrero mentioned. “I’ve expertise with that. I speak to him so much. I believe his dedication to observe and compete is identical as ever. So, let’s have a look at the place the restrict is for him. And let’s have a look at if he has no limits.”

Ferrero, 42, who gained the 2003 French Open and was ranked No. 1 the identical yr, is aware of greater than most about scaling tennis summits. He has coached Alcaraz since 2018 out of his academy in Villena, Spain, within the stark countryside close to Alicante that’s lengthy on mud and hilltop castles and quick on modern-age distractions.

When he’s not touring on tour, Alcaraz, who’s from El Palmar, a suburb of Murcia, boards on the academy on weekdays earlier than making the hourlong drive to spend weekends along with his household.

“Right here we’re actually tranquilo,” or calm, Alcaraz mentioned in a current interview in Villena. “Right here it is tennis, tennis and extra tennis. The city is 5 minutes away by automotive, however in actuality it is farther than that.”

Ferrero has been properly conscious of Alcaraz’s potential since he first noticed him in a low-level skilled match in Murcia at age 14. Ferrero has taken a thought-about and caring strategy to growing Alcaraz’s recreation. They’re clearly shut, which confirmed throughout the Miami Open in March when Ferrero shocked Alcaraz earlier than the ultimate after touring from Spain following his father’s funeral.

In coaching, the main target is on accentuating Alcaraz’s diverse recreation: He spends an excessive amount of time on the web and in transition, not simply on the baseline. By way of hours on court docket, the objective is high quality over amount, which preserves Alcaraz’s physique for the long term whereas emphasizing depth.

“The way in which you observe will have an effect on the way in which you play,” Alcaraz mentioned. “For those who do not practice each ball with that depth and seriousness, how are you going to know how you can do it in a match?”

Ferrero tries to attract on his personal expertise and errors. He soared to the highest however peaked early at age 23, earlier than falling again due to accidents and the rise of Federer and Nadal. After successful the French Open in 2003, he by no means superior previous the third spherical there earlier than retiring in 2012.

Ferrero generally didn’t heed his physique’s alerts and overplayed, which factored into Alcaraz’s choice to withdraw from the Italian Open earlier this month after successful back-to-back tournaments on clay in Barcelona and Madrid. The objective was to offer Alcaraz time to get better from the sprained proper ankle and blister on his foot that surfaced in Madrid but in addition to offer him a break from the commotion and inevitable French Open questions earlier than Paris.

“Let’s simply say that he needed to go to Rome, however let’s simply say additionally that he was considering of the longer term, of what was finest for him to reach at Roland Garros at one hundred pc,” Ferrero mentioned.

After successful in Madrid, Alcaraz took three days off and returned residence to El Palmar, the place he beamed and brandished the Madrid trophy on the balcony of his household’s condo along with his dad and mom behind him and a big crowd of followers gathered under, together with a bunch of drummers.

One can solely think about the din in El Palmar if Alcaraz have been to prevail in Paris.

Ferrero mentioned they did unusually lengthy coaching classes in Villena — as much as three hours — to organize for best-of-five-set matches. On Tuesday, Alcaraz had one in every of his common classes on the academy with a Spanish efficiency psychologist, Isabel Balaguer.

“A variety of gamers get misplaced on the way in which making an attempt to handle the whole lot, and I believe psychologists might help so much to maintain them on a great observe,” Ferrero mentioned. “It helps with establishing good routines on and off the court docket. Carlos doesn’t do plenty of visualization. They work in one other approach, speaking in regards to the issues which have occurred to him, how you can handle the whole lot, how you can keep calm and the way to stick with the toes on the bottom.”

That could possibly be almost as difficult as outlasting Djokovic from the baseline, however Alcaraz has emphasised that nice success doesn’t should result in a giant head.

“Tennis is a workforce sport on a regular basis besides if you find yourself on the court docket,” he mentioned.

This second in Paris stirs reminiscences of Nadal, the final word Spanish prodigy, who arrived at Roland Garros on a roll in 2005 because the No. 4 seed and gained his first Grand Slam title at 19. Nadal’s physique of labor was superior at that early stage. He had helped Spain win the Davis Cup in 2004 and gained 5 tournaments on clay in 2005 earlier than arriving in Paris. That was Nadal’s first French Open however solely as a result of he missed the match in 2003 and 2004 with accidents.

Alcaraz was solely 2 years outdated at that time and never but pounding balls obsessively in El Palmar in opposition to the hitting wall at his household’s sports activities membership. However Alcaraz does keep in mind the 2013 French Open semifinal, when Djokovic was up a break of serve on Nadal within the fifth set solely to lose his edge and the match after dropping a degree for touching the web after tapping a seemingly routine overhead winner.

“I watched loads of tennis, however that is my first actually clear reminiscence of a match,” Alcaraz mentioned.

9 years later, he seems like the most important risk to Nadal and Djokovic at Roland Garros, the place all three of them are within the prime half of the draw. Alcaraz is clearly at residence on hardcourts — he gained the Miami Open this yr — however grew up coaching virtually solely on clay.

He already has performed within the French Open: He misplaced within the third spherical final yr to Jan-Lennard Struff, a veteran German. However Alcaraz’s recreation, power and confidence have grown significantly since then.

“I see Carlos as a mix of the Huge Three,” mentioned Craig O’Shannessy, an Australian tennis analytics specialist who was a part of Struff’s workforce final yr. “You’ve got acquired the mentality and tenacity of Nadal and the beautiful timing and willingness to return to the web of Federer. After which you could have the aggressive baseline play like Djokovic: the facility and suppleness to hit large off either side from the backcourt.”

For now, Alcaraz says his objective is to win one of many three Grand Slam tournaments remaining in 2022. He was crushed within the third spherical of this yr’s Australian Open in a fifth-set tiebreaker by Matteo Berrettini, double faulting on match level.

“I believe it was the proper time to lose a match,” Ferrero mentioned. “Perhaps he may have gained and gone on to the semifinals like Berrettini, however possibly that will not have been as helpful as a loss.”

4 months later, after 4 titles, coach and pupil sounded much less inclined to see the intense aspect of defeat. Ferrero already has gone all the way in which in Paris, and as Alcaraz spoke on the academy in Villena, he did so in a room stuffed with Ferrero’s trophies, together with the smaller mannequin of the Coupe des Mousquetaires offered to the boys’s champion at Roland Garros.

“They need to have given him the large one,” Alcaraz mentioned with a chuckle. “I used to be a bit younger to recollect a few of these, however this place is stuffed with reminiscences and vital trophies to Juan Carlos. It is clearly an inspiration. I hope in the future I can match it or go previous it.”

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