It felt apt that Carlos Alcaraz’s victory over Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open – which seemed like a seminal moment in the passing of power – was watched by Spain’s King Felipe VI.
While Nadal is not prepared to abdicate from his ‘King of Clay’ throne, Alcaraz’s first victory over one of his childhood idols – and subsequent lifting of the Madrid title – was the strongest sign yet the 19-year-old Spaniard is ready to rule the men’s game.
Alcaraz, long touted as a future Grand Slam champion after being identified as a potential superstar aged 11, has dominated the ATP Tour in recent weeks.
The next step is transferring this form into a Grand Slam and the best-of-five sets format, with the first opportunity coming at the French Open, which starts on Sunday.
If Alcaraz was to win at Roland Garros – where 35-year-old Nadal has been almost unbeatable over the past two decades – then the leap from tennis sensation to mainstream recognition would be complete.
Fellow players and pundits have tipped him to do just that, while bookmakers have made him one of the favourites alongside 13-time winner Nadal – who is trying to manage a foot injury – and defending champion Novak Djokovic.
So just who is this youngster once branded ‘a piece of spaghetti’ who has got the tennis world salivating? And will he deliver?
‘Best player in the world right now’
Winning this month’s Madrid Open – the most prestigious tournament in his homeland – was Alcaraz’s fourth title of 2022. No other man has won as many.
A tally of 28 match wins this year was also unparalleled going into the Italian Open, which Alcaraz skipped to preserve himself for Roland Garros.
In May 2021, he was ranked 120th in the world. A year later, he is sixth.
“People are going to think that I’m one of the favourites to win Roland Garros,” Alcaraz said after he thrashed defending champion Alexander Zverev to win the Madrid title.
“I don’t have it as tension, I have it as a motivation.”
Djokovic thinks there is “no doubt” Alcaraz can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires on 5 June, while Zverev labelled the teenager the “best player in the world right now”.
After losing to Alcaraz in Madrid, Nadal conceded it was the start of the “handover”.
“If it’s today or not, we will see it in the next months,” the 21-time Grand Slam champion added.