Carlos Alcaraz Has Next

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For the last decade, men’s tennis has been an abnormally static sport. Here lies the graveyard of dreams deferred, promising careers waylaid by the triopoly of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. While the three greatest tennis players of all time dueled through their concurrent, extended primes, the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych aged from prodigies to retirees. But now, with Federer indefinitely injured and Djokovic sidelined by an incurable case of Kyrie Irving-brain, it’s tempting to wonder what’s next. The answer is Carlos Alcaraz, an 18 year-old wunderkind who might be the best 18 year-old wunderkind in tennis history.

Over the last month, Alcaraz first made the semifinals at Indian Wells and then followed that up by winning the Miami Open. Although Indian Wells and the Miami Open might be unfamiliar to casual fans, they’re two of the biggest non-Majors on the tennis calendar—winning one of them is a big deal. Since 2021, Alcaraz has stormed through the rankings, rising from 141st at the beginning of 2021 to 11th right now. In doing so, he’s become the youngest man to be ranked in the top 20 since 1983, putting him ahead of even Rafael Nadal at the same age. And the most impressive thing is that he’s done all of this on hardcourt despite his preferred surface being clay.

During his championship run in Miami, Alcaraz showcased the stunning depth of his talents. Namely, he hits the god-fearing crud out of the ball; at last year’s US Open, Stefanos Tsitsipas, another one of tennis’s brightest young talents, said that he’d never seen someone hit the ball so hard.” But while Alcaraz’s nuclear serve and forehand alone would be enough to guarantee a long and fruitful career, he’s such a special player because he can pair that power with everything else. He’s incredibly fast, yet still has the technique and wherewithal to hit bangers at a full-sprint. More, he has the instincts and point-construction of a wily veteran, pushing his opponent around the court until he can set up a forehand killshot for a winner. He hits the ball as hard as anybody has ever hit a ball and he covers as much ground as anybody as ever covered and then somehow might also have the best drop shot in the world. Alcaraz would be a good player on the basis of any of his power, speed or intelligence alone; he’s a potentially historic one because of the way he melds all three.  

Even his contemporaries agree: Alcaraz is the truth. Hubert Hurkacz, a top ten player who Alcaraz dispatched in the Miami semifinals, said it’s “crazy how good [Alcaraz] is;” Casper Ruud, Alcaraz’s opponent in the finals, seemed similarly awed, telling Alcaraz “you’re such a good player already.”

Heading into the clay-court season, there’s a very real chance that Alcaraz will be the favorite at the French Open, having the potential to become only the third man to ever beat Nadal at Roland Garros. Eventually, Alcaraz will be offered praise without qualification—he won’t be the best teenager or the youngest champion; he’ll simply be the best.

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