Carlos Alcaraz has everything in his game to conquer the world – including bulging thighs!

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There was a hint of exasperation last week when Rafael Nadal was asked, again, about his young compatriot Carlos Alcaraz.

“It will be better, although interesting, if you stop comparing him to me,” the Spaniard said at the Italian Open.

“We can’t think all the time about how I was and how he is today.

Carlos Alcaraz has drawn many comparisons to the all-time great and compatriot Rafael Nadal

“He is what he is and he’s fantastic, and probably in 2004 I wouldn’t say I was fantastic, but I think I was pretty good too.”

Although the two are different playing styles, Nadal knows very well that comparisons are inevitable.

It was just after his 19th birthday that he exploded onto the scene, hitting the big clay-court events en route to his maiden French Open title, which was actually in 2005.

Alex Zverev (R) joked that Alcaraz had

Alex Zverev (R) joked that Alcaraz was ‘five years old’ after losing to the starlet at the Madrid Open

Alcaraz have done something similar, rising to such an extent that they find themselves marginal bookmakers favorite for Paris next week in light of Nadal’s uncertain fitness.

The teenager’s achievements in recent months – he has won three of his last four tournaments and beaten four of the top five players – is quite an established quantity.

What is less known is how he quietly emerged from the home of tennis in southeastern Spain, having grown up in Murcia as one of four brothers. His father, also Carlos, was a head coach at one of the city’s tennis clubs.

<a class=Tennis star Nadal is sweating his fitness ahead of Roland-Garros” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%” />

Tennis star Nadal is sweating his fitness ahead of Roland-Garros

The Spaniard injured his foot in his loss to Denis Shapovalov at the Italian Open

The Spaniard injured his foot in his loss to Denis Shapovalov at the Italian Open

Among those who met Alcaraz during its development were two Britons – current GB number 12 Billy Harris and eminent coach Dan Kiernan, who runs the International SotoTennis Academy 300 miles further up the coast.

It tells you a lot about Alcaraz, and why there are so many stories about him, that both remember him by mentioning two great players: Nadal and Roger Federer.

Harris, from the Isle of Man, has played a lot at the lower level of the futures and faced him in early 2020, in a tournament held at Nadal’s tennis complex in Mallorca.

He even had match point against the upcoming superstar, before losing 7-6 in a third-set tie-break.

“It was the intense focus on every point that reminded me of Nadal,” he says.

Billy Harris takes on Edan Leshem in the ITF Great Britain F8 Final on May 15

Billy Harris takes on Edan Leshem in the ITF Great Britain F8 Final on May 15

“He never got down. I was gutted afterwards, but at the same time you knew he was going straight to the Challengers and then to the main circuit.

“We all knew he was this junior who was starting to win it all. I guess when someone shows up with Juan Carlos Ferrero as a full-time coach at 16, you know there must be something special about him.

Ferrero is the former French Open champion who had a brief stint as world No. 1 in the early 2000s. Since 2018, Alcaraz has been based at his eponymous academy near Alicante.

“I actually played really well that day,” Harris said.

“Ferrero was sitting in the back of the pitch telling him what to do, training is just expected to take place in Spain so it didn’t really bother me.”

“I had a short forehand on match point but hit it long.

“He just moved differently than anyone I’ve seen before, he was so fast and could do anything.”

“I remember those bulging thighs out of his shorts, his legs were very strong and fast.

“You felt like he had all the punches. He could slice, cushion, there was nothing he couldn’t do, which is unusual at this level.

“His serve wasn’t so good then, but you felt the pressure every time he returned.

“It was kind of a similar feeling to when I played Daniil Medvedev a few years earlier in a Futures, you could tell they had something different.”

Harris recalls playing world number 2 Daniil Medvedev during Russian youth career

Harris recalls playing world number 2 Daniil Medvedev during Russian youth career

Like Harris, Kiernan is about a player who had a reputation as a well-mannered, focused teenager, lacking in arrogance when it was already obvious he was headed for big things.

“There was a kind of aura around him. It was kind of like on a smaller scale when I was a player and young Federer was getting noticed,” says Kiernan, now 42.

“Everyone in the dressing room was stopping and watching Roger’s games. Lots of people were watching Carlos train, he was already incredibly professional in the job he was doing.

Kiernan, originally from the northeast but long based in Sotogrande, would see him at events in southern Spain where his own players competed. He was also present in Mallorca when Alcaraz won back-to-back Futures weeks as a 16-year-old.

He said: “He might have already been in the top 100 and I actually think he would have gotten to where he is now quicker if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.” He had everything and was a very dynamic mover.

“It’s one thing to be able to fly and throw as he can and it’s another to know when to do it, but he’s already figured that out.

“I knew Juan Carlos when he was a player and he was quite similar – polite and not arrogant, no airs or graces, but they largely kept to themselves.

Alcaraz, 19, defeated Zverev in straight sets (6-3, 6-1) to win the Madrid Open

Alcaraz, 19, defeated Zverev in straight sets (6-3, 6-1) to win the Madrid Open

“It’s the Spanish way of playing tennis – put your head down, work hard and fight for every point. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a great place to grow, and not just because of the clay courts and the ability to play outdoors all year round.

“There are so many tournaments and playing opportunities, such a volume of players and it’s a big country. When Andy Murray was 12, everyone in the UK was talking about him.

“Here you can develop more at your own pace and you don’t have to travel in search of ranking points.

“Carlos is the same age as Emma Raducanu but in a very different situation to her when she suddenly won the US Open – he is now ready to win a Slam and be No.

That’s why Nadal and Co have to answer questions about him.


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