“Continuity is guaranteed!” exclaimed Toni Nadal, the uncle and mentor of Rafael Nadal, one of the best tennis players of all time and, without a doubt, unsurpassed on clay with his 13 titles at Roland-Garros. For several months already, the one who taught the young “Rafa” to hold a racket on the courts of Mallorca had the clear feeling that a newcomer was going to impose himself and take over from his nephew. But, on Sunday May 8, seeing Carlos Alcaraz mercilessly defeat the German Zverev (6-3/6-1) in the final of the Madrid Master, he had confirmation. “He has absolutely everything in his favour: youth, freshness, physical power, a privileged mind. I can’t help but see him as the Rafael Nadal of 15 years ago. These two are so alike in terms of precocity.
At only 19 years old, Carlos Alcaraz is the youngest to have won five titles since the beginning of his career, precisely since the record broken in his time by Rafael Nadal. And everything smiles on the young prodigy from Murcia: in just a few months, two Masters (Barcelona and Madrid), ten consecutive victories and a feeling of great ease in winning successively against Nadal and Djokovic. The change of era and the passage of arms are almost already there. The Mallorca champion is the first to admit it, handsome player: “In reality, we will not live a real rivalry, because I am 36 years old and I am at the end of my career; already, he is the next generation. Carlos is going to hamper me for a while tennis-wise as a rival, but very soon I’ll be the first to feast on his game from the stands! »
Twilight close to “Rafa”, explosive dawn for “Carlitos”, this nickname that the person is fond of. Same height (1.85 m), same Mediterranean origin, same rage to win, same competitive capacity, same ability to withstand pressure: the similarities are not lacking between the two men. And then impressive power: “Since Rafa, I have rarely seen a player hit the ball so hard on the ball”, confessed Novak Djokovic the other day. The comparison goes further. For both of them, tennis is a family affair.
Very early on, Rafael Nadal was immersed in an atmosphere of sport and competition, thanks in particular to his uncle Toni, who would be his first coach, but also to his uncle Miguel-Angel, who would become a great football defender at FC Barcelona. In the same way, also initiated into football among other sports, the very young Carlos follows the family line, he who shares with his father and grandfather the same first name: Carlos Alcaraz senior, like his father, is a tennis enthusiast and trained his son until the age of 14 at Campo de Murcia, the modest tennis school he ran in El Palmar, south of the city of Murcia, in the south-east of the country.
The other big factor is the warmth, proximity and quality of the respective coaches. Nadal’s hatching has been no stranger to Spain’s golden generation since the 1990s, with Bruguera, Costa, Corretja, Moya as mentors or coaches. Ditto for “Carlitos”, who joined the academy of another former champion, Juan Carlos Ferrero, at Villena, near Murcia, at the age of 14. The one who discovered Ferrero and who founded this same academy, Antonio Martinez Cascales, confides: “‘Rafa’ and ‘Carlitos’ have been two stars from a very young age and exceptional athletes. But they both benefited from a favorable atmosphere, a very protective family circle, advice and support from former champions. Both have been secured in every respect. This helped them enormously to develop extraordinary mental strength, an ability to be permanently positive and to be very little permeable to gray areas and doubts. »
Alex Corretja, former world number two and who knows both men very well, both the adult and the teenager, said: “They have leapfrogged the stages always improving at an astonishing rate. They have in common this explosive cocktail that brings together both a real humility, because they know where they come from and have kept their feet on the ground, and also a warrior and starving ambition. »
In any case, everything is going very quickly in the trajectory of the young prodigy: in the top 100 tennis players last year, 6th in the ATP rankings today, and whom almost everyone says he is called upon to dominate the world tennis for many years. Last weekend, the public television channel broadcast a video where “Carlitos”, only 12 years old, expressed his dream: “to win Roland-Garros one day, like Rafael Nadal”. In fifteen days, the opportunity will be presented to him. The whole question is whether he will be able to distinguish himself with a record as edifying as that of his prestigious elder.