Carlos Alcaraz, at 19, Is a Favorite at the French Open

PARIS — When the long run No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero was 19, he got here to Roland Garros for the 1999 French Open qualifying event 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.

Together with his all-action fashion, Alcaraz, the emotive Spanish teenager, performs as if plugged into some renewable supply of vitality and already has gained 4 titles this season. He beat Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic back-to-back on purple 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 house on the entrance web page of L’Équipe, the main French sports publication.

The phrase is justifiably out. Now, it’s time to study whether or not Alcaraz, who’s within the high 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 event.

“If every part stays regular, and there’s no harm, I believe he’s completely prepared for greatest of 5,” Ferrero mentioned in an interview this week. He added: “His character on the courtroom is so huge. 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.”

Because the Large Three — Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer — took collective command of the boys’s sport within the late 2000s, that is the primary time {that a} next-generation participant has come into a serious males’s event with this degree of buzz and momentum.

“It appears to me, he’s not feeling the strain, however let’s see when the time comes,” Ferrero mentioned. “I’ve expertise with that. I speak to him quite a bit. I believe his dedication to observe and compete is similar as ever. So, let’s see the place the restrict is for him. And let’s see 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 brief on modern-age distractions.

When he isn’t 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’s tennis, tennis and extra tennis. The city is 5 minutes away by automotive, however in actuality it’s farther than that.”

Ferrero has been effectively conscious of Alcaraz’s potential since he first noticed him in a low-level skilled event in Murcia at age 14. Ferrero has taken a thought of and caring method to creating Alcaraz’s sport. They’re clearly shut, which confirmed through the Miami Open in March when Ferrero surprised Alcaraz before the final after touring from Spain following his father’s funeral.

In coaching, the main target is on accentuating Alcaraz’s diversified sport: He spends quite a lot of time on the internet and in transition, not simply on the baseline. When it comes to hours on courtroom, 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 best way you play,” Alcaraz mentioned. “If you happen to don’t prepare each ball with that depth and seriousness, how are you going to know 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 indicators and overplayed, which factored into Alcaraz’s resolution 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 provide Alcaraz time to recuperate from the sprained proper ankle and blister on his foot that surfaced in Madrid but additionally to provide him a break from the commotion and inevitable French Open questions earlier than Paris.

“Let’s simply say that he wished to go to Rome, however let’s simply say additionally that he was pondering of the long run, of what was greatest for him to reach at Roland Garros at 100%,” Ferrero mentioned.

After successful in Madrid, Alcaraz took three days off and returned dwelling 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 arrange for best-of-five-set matches. On Tuesday, Alcaraz had one among his common classes on the academy with a Spanish efficiency psychologist, Isabel Balaguer.

“Lots of gamers get misplaced on the best way making an attempt to handle every part, and I believe psychologists may help quite a bit to maintain them on a superb monitor,” Ferrero mentioned. “It helps with establishing good routines on and off the courtroom. Carlos doesn’t do a number of visualization. They work in one other means, speaking concerning the issues which have occurred to him, handle every part, keep calm and the way to stick with the toes on the bottom.”

That may very well be almost as difficult as outlasting Djokovic from the baseline, however Alcaraz has emphasised that huge success doesn’t should result in a giant head.

“Tennis is a crew sport on a regular basis besides if you end up on the courtroom,” he mentioned.

This second in Paris stirs recollections of Nadal, the last 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 event in 2003 and 2004 with accidents.

Alcaraz was solely 2 years outdated at that time and never but pounding balls obsessively in El Palmar towards 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 online after tapping a seemingly routine overhead winner.

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

9 years later, he seems to be like the largest risk to Nadal and Djokovic at Roland Garros, the place all three of them are within the high half of the draw. Alcaraz is clearly at dwelling on hardcourts — he gained the Miami Open this yr — however grew up coaching nearly completely 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 sport, power and confidence have grown significantly since then.

“I see Carlos as a mix of the Large Three,” mentioned Craig O’Shannessy, an Australian tennis-analytics specialist who was a part of Struff’s crew final yr. “You’ve bought the mentality and tenacity of Nadal and the beautiful timing and willingness to come back to the online of Federer. After which you may have the aggressive baseline play like Djokovic: the ability and adaptability to hit huge off each 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 overwhelmed 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 suitable time to lose a match,” Ferrero mentioned. “Possibly he might have gained and gone on to the semifinals like Berrettini, however possibly that may not have been as helpful as a loss.”

4 months later, after 4 titles, coach and pupil sound much less inclined to see the intense aspect of defeat. Ferrero already has gone all the best way in Paris, and as Alcaraz spoke on the academy in Villena, he did so in a room crammed 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 filled with recollections and essential trophies to Juan Carlos. It’s clearly an inspiration. I hope someday I can match it or go previous it.”

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