Ferrero: Don't compare Alcaraz to Nadal

Former champion in Paris tells his rising charge, Carlos Alcaraz, must carve his own path

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The sleeveless top, bulging biceps and a roaring ‘vamos’ - it’s difficult not to draw comparisons between Carlos Alcaraz with a fellow Spaniard.

The 18-year-old is one of the hottest prospects on the men's tour. In the eight months since Roland-Garros 2020, the 18-year-old has truly flourished, rising from world No.158 to crack the top 100.

In Paris, he decimated his trio of opponents in qualifying to then surged into the third round as the youngest to reach the last 32 at Roland-Garros since a certain Rafael Nadal in 2004. 

You might recognise his coach, 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, who is adamant Alcaraz will carve out his own path to the upper echelons.

“I don’t think comparisons are very nice. He’s going to be himself. I think he has the potential to be one of the best in the world. We have to let him grow up, to stay calm, to work hard,” insisted the former world No.1. 

“He can’t be involved in the next Rafa, next (David) Ferrer, next Ferrero conversation. He has excellent examples of Spanish players to follow, but it’s very important to find his own way.”

Alcaraz’s Roland-Garros campaign was halted by the towering German Jan-Lennard Struff on Saturday in an entertaining, spirited straight-sets loss.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roland Garros 2021, clan de Carlos Alcaraz© Philippe Montigny/FFT

For Ferrero, it is far more important to see the bigger picture with his prodigy.

“This tournament, doesn’t matter how far. It’s important for him to see how far he has to work, how hard it is to achieve this consistency. This is essential for the rest of the year. One of his goals is to finish inside the top 50,” Ferrero said. “He’s taken a shortcut. The nearest challenge is to stay at this level.”

World No.97 Alcaraz has already accomplished so much, including four Challenger titles, qualifying for a maiden major main draw at the Australian Open in February and chalking up a first Masters 1000 win in Madrid. It’s all happening so fast.

“First thing, he has the potential to do it. Of course, he’s starting to believe in himself, that he belongs at the top,” Ferrero said.

“Back in August, when we started to get out from the lockdown, he was different. He started to believe he could win some Challengers. He started to play a very good level from there. 

“He’s grown up very fast, he believes in himself and he’s had to grow up very fast mentally.

“He needs to be even more mature on and off the court, he needed some real order off the court at the beginning – the rest, the food, the recover – as soon as he took that then his level increased very fast.”

For Ferrero this is only the first step, alongside the explosive pace and solid repertoire of shots, he wants more from his pupil.

“His serve, his forehand, he can go forward to the net more, not stay at the baseline too much. He can improve on hard courts, gain experience on grass,” stated the Spaniard. “That’s the exciting thing as he has so much to improve. He’s young, [has] a lot of potential.”

Ferrero first witnessed Alcaraz in action as a 12-year-old. The teenager’s manager Albert Molina is a long-time friend.

There had been brief discussions of him taking Alcaraz under his wing, but then at a tournament at Equelite, Ferrero’s academy in Villena, Spain, it all changed.

“I remember he had something different from the others, that was a little special,” Ferrero said. “I saw him in a Futures at 14, he lost that match, but that’s when I thought I could be his coach, I saw things that made me want to be his coach.”

Those aspects include his drive, bravery and dogged determination within the confines of the court.

“What I like about him on the court is that he’s very natural. All the ‘vamos’, he’s very expressive, shows a lot of emotions, he’s very natural,” Ferrero said.

“He’s very happy all the time, laughing making a lot of jokes all the time. He’s a very natural kind of guy.”

Ferrero has reached the top of the rankings, reached two other major finals in addition to his 2003 Roland-Garros triumph and thrived in the Davis Cup cauldron, but is now shouldering the weight of guiding one of his nation’s finest prospects.

“It’s difficult because everyone can say he’s a diamond but it’s still a lot of work to draw out all the potential he has. It’s difficult to build the perfect plan,” he said. 

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland Garros 2021, first round© Andre Ferreira/FFT

“It’s been a big challenge. I feel a big responsibility, having one of the top youngsters of Spanish tennis. I have to do a good job. But I have my experience as a very good player, at that elite level, so I can explain everything to Carlos from on and off the court to go far in Grand Slams.

“My whole playing career is helping me now, to stay focused but calm on the job.”

Ferrero can still play a decent ball, too.

“The last time we played was last year, we played a complete match and he beat me 7-5 in the third. Now he’s improved a lot, I’m not ready to play again,” joked Ferrero, happy to take a seat on the sidelines.

Alcaraz has the “potential” to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires, which Ferrero believes would match his playing triumph in 2003.

“If this happens in the future of course I’ll be so proud, that the hard work has paid off. It would be so satisfying.”

For now, it’s back to the hard work.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roland Garros 2021, clan de Carlos Alcaraz© Cédric Lecocq/FFT