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The hype surrounding Carlos Alcaraz is deserved, but also highly contextual

Anyone who loves tennis and follows the pro tours has had a moment when they saw a young player do something special, and reacted by trusting that player to deliver big results in a career.

“He’s gonna win six majors!”

“She’s going to compete for the career Grand Slam!”

“He will definitely win Roland Garros!”

“She will win many Wimbledons!”

We have all had that moment.

When Alexander Zverev beat Novak Djokovic in the Rome final several years ago, I was convinced Zverev would win a few majors. I hyped a player. I know what it feels like to do that. I have been burned enough times to learn, with accumulated experience, that hyping a player comes with plenty of risks, and that it shouldn’t be done unless one is completely sold on a player’s overall collection of qualities — not just the game itself, but the comportment, the coachability, the perspective, the toughness.

When looking at Carlos Alcaraz this week in Miami, and seeing him win a Masters 1000 tournament at age 18 — something very rarely done in tennis history — it is hard to NOT hype Alcaraz to the highest heaven.

What’s not to like about a player who doesn’t lose belief when trailing on the scoreboard, who mentally resets before every point, who displays variety in his game, can hit highly offensive shots from defensive positions, and has reliable and fluid technique?

This is a well-rounded player with a strong innergame … at age 18. Yes, it’s impressive. Yes, he is going to be hyped. I won’t criticize anyone for starting the hype train here.

Yet, can we all acknowledge that Alcaraz didn’t beat Nadal or Djokovic this week? Can we admit that Tsitsipas and Zverev are struggling, Medvedev is hurt, and Thiem is still off the radar?

Carlos Alcaraz was hugely and historically impressive this week in Miami. He did something few people his age have ever done in tennis. He deserves all the praise and all the hype.

But: He is taking advantage of an ATP Tour which is ripe for the picking. He has stepped into a noticeable power vacuum, which leads us to this obvious point: The hype around Alcaraz, while mostly a product of Alcaraz himself — attractive game, refreshing personality, no soap-operatic bullsh** — is also very much a product of the guys who are three to six years older than him. The inability of that 21-to-24 age cohort to take charge of men’s tennis, and do what the #ATPLostBoys could not, is a big reason many are hyping Alcaraz as The Next Big Thing in men’s tennis.

If Zverev had beaten Djokovic in a few fifth sets at majors in recent years, and if Tsitsipas had not regressed since Roland Garros 2021, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Alcaraz has earned the hype, let’s be clear.

Let’s also be clear that this hype has multiple roots and sources.

How the competition performs as 2022 continues will be, in many ways, more interesting than how Alcaraz himself responds to a new level of stardom on the ATP Tour.

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