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The Ascension of Carlos Alcaraz

The sport of tennis is no stranger to the notion of the ‘young prodigy’, bursting onto the scene propelled by an aptitude beyond their years and the precocity required for an upset. Every year, it seems there is a new player who convinces everyone they will be the next Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer- very rarely, however, does the hype translate into tangible results. If every lofty prediction about these players came true, the Big Three would have been a Big Ten. Talent, even prodigal talent, is more common than one might think. In the physical and mental battlefield of tennis, where competitors fight against themselves as much as their opponent, talent is simply not enough. The cliche of the ‘young prodigy’ in tennis, then, is one tempered by a dozen stories of wasted potential.

Yet a cliche only becomes a cliche if it rings with truth. There have been stories over the years where the young prodigy seemed empowered by the hype and expectation, rather than overawed by it. Boris Becker, one of the most famed and influential players in the history of the sport, i perhaps the definitive iteration of the tennis ‘young prodigy’. His astonishing feat of winning Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 1985 has never been bested. He was the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon, and he remains the youngest ever. Before entering into the tennis ‘GOAT’ race, Nadal was once a young prodigy himself. It took several years on the ATP Tour for his great contemporaries, Federer and Djokovic, to establish themselves as perennial Grand Slam challengers- not Nadal. At the age of 19, the King of Clay showed everyone a glimpse of his fifteen year-long dominance on the surface by winning the 2003 French Open at the first attempt.

Since then, several potential ‘young prodigies’ have come and gone without making the splash they intended. There have, of course, been many examples of the opposite; the warning stories. The mercurial and ever-controversial Nick Kyrgios has proven his immense talent numerous times, with upset victories over the Big Three and even a Wimbledon final appearance in 2022. Put simply, Kyrgios could dominate the ATP Tour if he had the work ethic or the mentality, but he remains insistent on proving he has neither of them.

Then came Carlos Alcaraz.

The young 19 year old belongs to a great tradition of Spanish tennis players who, in particular, have practically owned the sport’s clay season. Many have already appointed Alcaraz the ultimate successor to the Big Three, and the only player of the ‘Next Gen’ with the capacity to surpass them- if, indeed, he proves to have their longevity. Unlike Kyrgios, Alcaraz seems insistent on proving he has every single quality you could possibly require to be successful in tennis. He has immense power from the forehand and backhand side. He has one of the deftest drop shots in the game, which he often hits for a clean winner. He has incredible mobility reminiscent of the last great Spanish prodigy, Rafael Nadal. Lastly, he has an all-court game, capable of performing on the trifecta of grass, clay and hard court.

His results speak for themselves. By winning the 2022 Madrid Open, Alcaraz became the first man ever to defeat both Nadal and Djokovic en-route to a Masters title. By winning the 2022 US Open, he became the youngest winner of the hard-court slam since Pete Sampras and the youngest World No.1 in the history of the sport. All this before the age of 20.

Undoubtedly, Carlos Alcaraz is the real deal. His ascension has been one of the most memorable, exciting and successful of all the ‘tennis prodigies’. Tennis fans can only hope he continues to exceed that label.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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