People who write about sports sometimes need to know that words are inadequate in describing what they just witnessed in the cauldron of intense, top-level competition.
Sometimes, the simple facts tell an important and weighty story better than any words can.
Such is the case after Carlos Alcaraz defeated Novak Djokovic in the Madrid Open semifinals on Saturday, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5), in three and a half hours, one day after beating Rafael Nadal.
The facts tell a complete story. There’s no need for embellishment when reality tells an amazing tale unto itself.
No one had ever beaten Nadal and Djokovic in consecutive matches on clay until Alcaraz did.
Alcaraz beat Djokovic in the first meeting between the two players.
He beat Djokovic in a polonged slugfest in which he had so many chances to fold.
He beat Djokovic after losing a 4-2 lead in the first set and losing break points in the third.
He beat Djokovic one day after beating Nadal. Usually, beating Rafa (in three sets) leaves ATP pros emotionally and physically drained. Alcaraz had to battle for over three hours against Djokovic and still looked fresh at the end, hitting big and thinking clearly on the court.
Carlos Alcaraz turned 19 years old two days ago.
He has done something generations of tennis players have failed to do … and the biggest part of it all is that it didn’t feel shocking.
Emotional and powerful? Yes. Slightly surprising, given how clutch Djokovic is? Yes.
But this wasn’t Cinderella pulling a titanic upset. No, Alcaraz will be a top-six player in the rankings next week. He has lost only three matches so far this year. All of this felt entirely possible … which reflects the extent to which success is already expected for Alcaraz.
Commentator Gill Gross made a great observation after the match: There is no need to suppress the Alcaraz hype any longer.
Instead of thinking, “We really need to be cautious about hyping Alcaraz,” it seems unwise to insist that we don’t yet know enough to determine whether he will attain superstardom.
It is natural and, moreover, generally advisable to pump the brakes and be cautious about feeding the hype train when a young player does something special. Yet, after seeing Alcaraz do things other pros have never done — against two icons of the sport — it really is true that the script has been flipped.
Complete game, strong nerves, noticeable variety, superb fitness, excellent court coverage, positive attitude. Alcaraz already owns a well-developed package of attributes. He played Djokovic like a veteran, not a 19-year-old in his first meeting against the 20-time major champion.
Yet, he just turned 19 two days ago.
The facts tell the story. The script has been flipped.
Carlos Alcaraz told a story so convincingly that writers like me just need to get out of the way and let the facts speak for themselves.