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Rising Spanish star Carlos Alcaraz in 2021 – first title, first Slam quarter-final, at 18

Voted ATP’s Newcomer of the Year in 2020, Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz is contending for ATP Most Improved Player of the Year honours this year. Our recap on the 2021 season of the man said to be the heir to Rafael Nadal

Carlos Alcaraz, 2021 © Panoramic

Voted the ATP’s newcomer of the year in 2020, everyone knows who Carlos Alcaraz is now. All but one of his main tour-level wins have come in 2021 – and Spanish fans are hoping they finally have an heir to the legendary Rafael Nadal.

For his part, Alcaraz tries to shrug off such comparisons – likening himself more to Roger Federer – but either way, they are big shoes to fill. After a massive breakthrough year, he now has the challenge of stepping up and establishing himself as a consistent force among the elite.

  • Alcaraz’s ranking at end of 2020: 141
  • Alcaraz’s ranking at end of 2021: 32
  • Alcaraz’s 2021 win/loss record: 32/17
  • Alcaraz’s titles: 1

Alcaraz’s best performance: First ATP title in Umag

It is not necessarily this performance that the public will remember most. But it is an important milestone that will always be in the history books: in July, Carlos Alcaraz won his first title on the main tour in Umag (ATP 250), Croatia, beating Richard Gasquet in the final.

He also finished the year in style by winning the Next Gen Masters in Milan. That doesn’t count in the official prize list. But a title like that, against his (probable) great rivals of tomorrow, including Sebastian Korda in the final, is also highly significant.

Alcaraz’s best Grand Slam performance: Quarter-finals of the US Open

He obtained it at the US Open by reaching the quarter-finals courtesy of a formidable victory – his best to date – in the third round against Stefanos Tsitsipas, in a fifth-set tiebreak where his audacity and control were incredible. Aged 18 years and four months, he became the youngest man to reach that stage at the US Open. He could not go any further, though, suffering a groin injury against Felix Auger-Aliassime, which forced him to retire from the match and the tournament.

His displays in New York were the culmination of a great build-up over the preceding months: a qualification and a first Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, followed by another qualification and this time a third-round win at Roland Garros, and a first-round win at Wimbledon despite never having played on grass.

Alcaraz’s high point: His birthday – and a match against Nadal

Possibly the highlight of Alcaraz’s year was the Madrid Masters 1000 where he faced Rafael Nadal in the second round on his 18th birthday (May 5)! His famous compatriot didn’t do him any favours that day, beating him 6-1, 6-2, but the younger man must have learned a lot and certainly enjoyed the experience.

The three semi-finals he played in Marbella (clay), Winston-Salem (hard) and Vienna (indoor) are further proof of his versatility – and he also picked up another title, albeit a Challenger, in Oeiras, on clay.

Alcaraz’s low point: A disappointing end to the year

He had two tricky experiences, both at the end of the season: firstly at the Rolex Paris Masters, where he was beaten in the last 16 by Hugo Gaston in a match in which he was heckled by a noisy and partisan crowd.

And then, a few weeks later, he had to withdraw from Spain’s Davis Cup squad to play in Madrid – after his first-ever call-up – because he tested positive for Covid-19.

Alcaraz on social media

As you might expect of a teenager, Alcaraz is often to be found on Twitter and Instagram, where his posts are all about tennis, often giving a peep behind the scenes at tournaments.

Alcaraz off the court

Originally from El Palmar, in the region of Murcia, he spends most of his time – outside of tournaments – in the academy of his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, located in Villena, near Alicante.

As he explained in an interview with Tennis Majors a year ago, he allows himself very few extras, except for the occasional golf game or football match, two of his hobbies. At 18, he is already extremely committed to his job.

Alcaraz’s self-assessment

Carlos Alcaraz himself is well pleased with his 2021.

“It has been a really good season for me,” he said after winning the Next Gen Finals. “I’m really happy for the moments that I lived. For example, I would say Tsitsipas, beating Stefanos in the US Open, the quarter-finals in the Grand Slam, win my first ATP – but I think this experience wouldn’t be possible without the experience that I got in other tournaments like Madrid, playing against Rafa, in Acapulco playing against Zverev, there are a lot of tournaments, matches that I played that gave me a lot of experience to be able to get more mature so soon.”

He goes into 2022 ranked high enough to make the Australian Open main draw – surpassing the target of Top 50 his coach set for him.

A lot of experience to be able to get more mature so soon.

Carlos Alcaraz on his 2021 season

Tennis Majors assessment

Going into 2021, we already knew Carlos Alcaraz was going to be a fine player – but this year has shown us just how good he might be, and how soon that might happen. He has had a spectacular year, better than any other man of the younger generation save perhaps Jannik Sinner, two years his senior.

It’s simple: Alcaraz has no apparent flaws, be it physical, tactical or (especially) mental. Technically, one can still see a few small dings here and there, on the backhand and on the volley. But it is perhaps this opportunity to improve that makes his future prospects even more attractive, especially as it does not prevent him from going forward, including in important moments. His mentality is just incredible.

And – much as he might hate to hear it – that too is reminiscent of Rafa.

Alcaraz is the kind of player that the public like to get behind. And we too are pretty excited to watch his progress.

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