Carlos Alcaraz has played in a shadow. It’s hard not to compare the kid with the Spanish master Rafa Nadal. The icon and the young prodigy have so much in common: they’re swift, charismatic athletic geniuses with muscles – really big muscles – and even bigger tennis shots. Their games astonish. They have speed, touch, smarts and charm. And they’re both gentlemen who value something called sportsmanship.
Rafa was a jaw-dropping phenom. When he was 18 he thrilled a Davis Cup arena with 27,000 shrieking, flag-flying fans, and when he was 19 he won the first of his 87 French Opens (well, that’s the way it feels).
Sorry, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsispas, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov, Alcaraz is the hottest phenom to light up the ATP in more than a generation. His star-is-born narrative brings to mind Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Andre Agassi and even Rafa and Djokovic.
In the past six months, Alcaraz has been the most consistent player on American soil: he reached the quarters at the US Open, the fourth round at Indian Wells in October, and the semis of the March edition of Indian Wells. He won in Umag, at the Next Gen tourney and in Rio, where he became the youngest to ever lift an ATP 500 trophy. And, yes, he has wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini, Andy Murray and Jannik Sinner. And, like a Flamenco dancer in Madrid, he’s high-stepping. Last year at this time he was No. 132. Now he’ll be No. 11.
Already feared in the locker room, he’s 7-6 against top ten players. Dare we say that tennis might just have itself another superstar? Rafa himself offered a ringing endorsement: “He’s super fast, amazing defense…the energy, the speed on the run and the passion and determination to become a great champion. He’s humble [enough] to work hard…I have no doubts he will be great…His level is top – top.”
Today in Miami, Alcaraz faced a top, top star – No. 8 Casper Ruud, who this week beat Zverev. Yes, the Norwegian is often seen as a clay court specialist – last summer he won three tourneys in a row on dirt. But recently he’s been surging on hard courts. In Miami, he downed Cameron Norrie, Alexander Zverev and the rising Argentinian, Francisco Cerundolo, and in the final he promptly took advantage of four errors from his nervous foe to go up 4-1. But then Casper endured a Ruud awakening.
After all, Carlos has everything: power, finesse, speed, vision, variety, high tennis IQ, fighting instincts, and even an endearing smile. Soon Ruud had little to smile about. Alcaraz’s forehand put Ruud on the run. His kick serve was a kick in the pants. He won scramble points and scrambled Ruud’s game plan to win from the baseline.
Carlos in ascendance is a daunting sight. In the zone, he won nine of ten games in a row to go up 7-5, 3-0. While Jason Goodall noted, “Alcaraz has taken this match by the scruff of the neck,” we wondered if the Spaniard will soon take tennis itself by the scruff of its neck.
Ruud is a superb 23-year-old competitor. He gamely broke Carlos’ serve in the second set to prevent a runaway. But Prakash Amritaj’s pre-tourney observation, “We are witnessing a moment in time in the history of our sport,” soon became apparent. After 1:52, Alcaraz calmly hit a high backhand volley to prevail 7-5, 6-4. Flushed with emotion, the boy fell to the court and then sprinted to share the moment with his elated team – a picture of ecstatic delight.
It was Carlos’ third win in three tour finals. He became the first Spanish man and the youngest man to win in Miami, and just the third youngest to win a Masters.
Two weeks ago, Alacaraz lost in blustery 50-mph winds to Nadal. Now, he was stirring up a storm of accolades. Brett Haber asked, “Did we see him coming? Kinda – but not this fast. A bit of a ‘hello world’ moment from Carlos Alcaraz.” Martina Navratilova asserted, “He’s now one of the top four people you have to talk about at a major, along with Nadal, Djokovic and Medvedev.” Jim Courier said, “He’s not just the future of tennis, he’s right now, right here, a force in men’s tennis. This kid is so fun to watch.” He added that Carlos has a good chance to become the first man since Rafa to win a major as a teen. He’ll have four chances. “He has all the tools in the toolbox.”
Tennis is a sport that adores superstars – the more charismatic the better. Renewal is what excites us. After all, in years to come, Rafa, Roger and Nole will no longer be around. But a charming, gifted young Spanish conquistador, who came of age today, will be.