The rise of Alcaraz through a Spanish lens

 - Alex Sharp

Teenage sensation has transformed from qualifier to Grand Slam contender in just a year

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland Garros 2022, third round© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Spanish tennis has been spoilt with a plethora of successful players in the past couple of decades.

Any contender on the men’s side is immediately compared with 21-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.

And then came Carlos Alcaraz.

“We’ve been waiting for a star like him for about 10 years or more. Tennis needed a player like Carlos," said El Pais' tennis reporter Alejandro Ciriza, who joined along with Diario AS tennis correspondent Nacho Albarran to discuss the mesmerising rise of Alcaraz.

Let’s go back to the start.

“The first time I saw him play was in London at the 2017 ATP Finals,” says Albarran. “He was playing a tournament for under 14, some kind of exhibition masters. He won it and had so much potential.”

The word on the tennis beat was that Alcaraz was essential viewing.

“I was talking about him with other Spanish players and everybody said this kid will be very good, at the top in the future. David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Nadal, they all told us,” Albarran continues.

“His rise has not surprised me, but it’s still faster than I felt.”

Ciriza had also caught word of Carlos: “Many people told me there was a really great, unique player growing up in this area,” he recalls.

In 2017 he travelled to Alcaraz’s training base at the Juan Carlos Ferrero Academy in Villena, Spain.

“I had to check it for myself. Ferrero and the other guys told me, ‘You should watch this guy’. He was already amazing, the way he hit the ball, the way he moved, it was all so impressive.”

Those roots at the academy remain and when the 19-year-old teenage sensation isn’t on the road, he goes home to his parents in El Palmar, just an hour's drive from training.

The family still lives in the same apartment, nothing has changed for ‘Charly’ away from the confines of the court.

“He needs to be able to come back home, he’s a very affectionate guy who needs to keep in touch with his friends, his family. His brothers are very important to him,” says Ciriza.

“In Villena, he has a second family with Ferrero and the rest of the team, their kids.”

So what’s the hype about? Alcaraz’s phenomenal results have been building for several seasons, but his stardom and success have exploded in 2022.

This includes three top-10 wins to take a maiden Masters 1000 title in Miami, then he ignited his European clay campaign with Barcelona silverware.

Madrid was the true start of Carlos mania. The current world No.6 made global news with a trio of head-turning victories over Nadal, Novak Djokovic and then Alexander Zverev.

“I knew he would win many, many trophies, but maybe he is growing faster than I expected. It’s not just the titles, it’s the way he’s beating the other guys, the real top guys,” suggests Ciriza.

“It's the way he catches the imagination of the people, the atmosphere he creates everywhere.”

Obviously Nadal still dominates the Spanish tennis landscape; his longevity and continued victories justify it.

For ‘Charly’, his prominence is only just starting, but it is soaring.

“Carlos is more and more popular in Spain amongst the famous people. Social media is important. When Nadal broke through at 18, there was no Twitter or Instagram. Now he’s everywhere,” Albarran points out.

“My newspaper Diario AS made five or six front pages with Carlos after his success with the titles, the victories over Djokovic and Nadal, for example.

“It’s difficult up against football and, for example, with Real Madrid winning La Liga, going for the Champions League. So it’s remarkable he gets any front page.”

The banner coverage has been popping up in El Pais too; Spain's national newspaper has taken note.

“We are writing about Carlos every day," says Ciriza.

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland Garros 2022, third round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

"Carlos is gaining more stature for sure. We are not a sports paper, we are a general newspaper. But when Carlos won in Madrid we dedicated the front page to him! That’s very difficult, because usually there are politicians, many other kinds of photographs.

“It was absolutely crazy. In the Caja Magica in Madrid, with all the Spanish fans, many made the trip from Murcia. The atmosphere was really special, the way he won that trophy, the impact on the people, so it’s very important what he’s doing now.”

And it’s not just his tennis doing the talking. The Alcaraz profile is box office courtesy of everything done with a cheek-to-cheek smile.

“For his style of play, because he transmits his emotions, his personality, his kindness, he’s a simple boy, who talks with everybody, will take pictures with everyone. He’s very humble,” says Albarran, noting Alcaraz’s global appeal.

Again, Ciriza echoes his colleague: “We wrote a headline, ‘a star is rising’, so the impact of Carlos is huge across the country. I think it’s because of his age, his personality, he’s so humble. This is the main reason, his youthful charisma, which is grabbing all of our attention.”

Alcaraz, who faces Karen Khachanov in the last 16 on Sunday, is still in the hunt for a maiden major in Paris. Surely not now, Charly? 

“He can be as successful as he wants. He’s an exceptional player, unique in his generation. I can’t tell you he’ll win 20, 21, 35 Grand Slams, but for sure he’ll win many big titles and reach the world No.1,” insists Ciriza, who even so isn't quite as bold with his predictions as Albarran.

“He’s a Grand Slam winner without a doubt. Now, maybe this year. In the future of course,” says the Diario AS reporter. “He doesn’t have the level of rivals that can stop him the same way Nadal had Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka.

“I think he will win multiple, 15, 20, over 21!”

Looks like Carlos is on course for front and back page coverage for years to come.