By Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent
Some tennis players rise through the professional ranks unseen; their rise and eventual crest catch onlookers by surprise. Then there are those who aren’t merely visible, but whose progress is keenly monitored. Each success is celebrated and evaluated in equal parts.
The former category of players can be discussed another day. For the moment, let’s focus on the latter, who not only live up to external expectations but also revel in shaping them to their advantage, as though embodying the insouciantly used phrase, “Pressure is a privilege.”
The one name that not only belongs to this latter category of players, but is also leading this pack on the tour, is Carlos Alcaraz.
The 19-year-old from Murcia is one of the biggest stories of the 2022 Roland Garros fortnight along with his older compatriot, Rafael Nadal, who has developed a God-like aura in the French capital. There are no comparisons to be made between Alcaraz and Nadal, beyond the fact they are both in contention for this title. Alcaraz is making his mark at this major in a way that’s unique to him, much as his game and style of play belong to him alone even though he occasionally evokes the greats who have gone before him.
On Sunday against Karen Khachanov, Alcaraz reached the quarterfinals in Paris. It’s the first time he’s made it far this the event, in what is only his second appearance. Beyond the French Open itself, the strides Alcaraz has taken to get this far are immense. His win against Khachanov was his 14th on the trot, including his titles in Barcelona and Madrid. In the European clay season, Alcaraz lost just one match coming into Paris, in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters at the hands of Sebi Korda.
In this regard, there’s no better person than Alcaraz himself to describe how he has come into his own as a top player on the tour.
“I believe that it is my hard work. Every day I put a brick in my wall. I put each brick in in the best way possible. My physio Juanjo sent me a motivational video. The key message was: Don’t try to build the biggest and most impressive wall, but instead place one brick every day in the best way possible. That is exactly what I am doing,” Alcaraz told Spanish publication Marca in March after his Miami Open title run.
To elaborate on this, and in order to connect this idea to what Alcaraz has already shown several times in his upward swing on tour, his efforts reiterate his words: He has prepared for every kind of challenge his rivals have to offer, even if it means fighting past match points, as he did against Albert Ramos Viñolas in the second round of the French Open. Most importantly, this also means meeting rivals head-on without assigning much importance to their stature in the rankings, even if it means it’s Nadal or Djokovic on the opposite end of the court in a possible semifinal in Paris.
Do these results, coupled with this narrative he has built – putting bricks in the walls of his four titles this year, climbing to a new career-high of No. 6 – mean that Alcaraz’s story in Paris could go all the way to the third Sunday? The remaining few days will let us know soon enough about that.
Alcaraz isn’t limiting himself to being a major-tournament success story at Roland Garros, as big as that aspiration might seem.
In his own words:
“I would say yes. I am prepared, I am confident, in my level, my physique and my mentality that I will be able to win. Maybe it won’t happen at Roland Garros, but I feel that I am ready to win a Grand Slam this year. And I am not afraid to say it. I know that there will be great players: Rafa (Rafael Nadal), (Daniil) Medvedev, (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, (Alexander) Zverev, (Novak) Djokovic… All the best and the favourites. But I feel ready to win one, although you don’t know what it will happen and it is the same situation for the world number one. I hope that it happens as soon as possible.”
If Carlos Alcaraz has his way, the moment he’s hoping for will soon be the reality he creates.