Alcaraz Is the Present – And The Future – Of Men’s Tennis

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: ATP Tour video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, April 3, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Carlos Alcaraz is no longer just a potential star – he’s the present and the future of men’s tennis.

The 18-year-old from El Palmar, Murcia, Spain has garnered plenty of attention during this year’s Miami Open presented by Itaú in South Florida. On Friday, the World No. 16 Alcaraz defeated defending champion Hubert Hurkacz, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), to become the second-youngest finalist in Miami Open history, exceeded only by Rafael Nadal.

“It’s great to be able to play my first Masters 1000 final here in Miami,” the 14th seed Alacaraz said Friday evening during his post-match news conference after defeating the World No. 10 from Poland and electrifying the crowd inside Hard Rock Stadium. “I love playing here in Miami. Amazing crowd, amazing atmosphere, amazing everything. So, it’s great to play a final.”

On Sunday, Alcaraz will oppose World No. 8 Casper Ruud of Norway, who is seeded sixth. Although Ruud, 23, is the older, more experienced player – he’s won seven tour-level titles to just two for Alcaraz – it’s worth noting that in their only previous meeting, last year on clay in Marbella, Spain, Alcaraz beat Ruud 6-2, 6-4.

A year ago, Alcaraz was ranked 132nd and needed a wild card to earn a berth in the Miami Open main draw. Then, he was promptly ousted in the first round by Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland. It was a humbling experience for the Spaniard, but he learned from it. Since then, over the past 12 months, Alcaraz has broken down many rankings barriers – first breaking into the Top 100, then the Top 50, and more recently the Top 20. What a difference a year has made. Thus far, he’s strung together an impressive 17-2 win-loss record in 2022, which has included winning his first ATP 500 title, on clay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in February.

“Believe the hype; it is real. He is real,” said Jim Courier, who analyzed Alcaraz’s victory over Hurkacz Friday night on TV for Tennis Channel. “Alcaraz is just ever tough. He is creative, he’s complete and he’s going to play Sunday for his biggest title yet.”

Indeed, Alcaraz has enjoyed a phenomenal tournament in Miami, with victories against Marton Fucsovics, No. 21 seed Marin Cilic, No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, Miomir Kecmanovic and Hurkacz.

Against Hurkacz in Friday evening’s semifinal, Alcaraz rallied from down 3-5 in the first-set tie-break to win four straight points. Then, in the second-set tie-break, he benefited from some untimely Hurkacz miscues. Alcaraz hit a drop shot at 5-2 to set up match point, then struck a passing shot attempt that Hurkacz could only net to end the semifinal. Soon, Alcaraz was lifting his arms in celebration of his accomplishment. He beamed a smile that quickly lit up Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Alcaraz acknowledged that playing Nadal earlier this month in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals at Indian Wells helped him prepare for the experience of playing in the Miami Open semifinal.

“It was a great match against Rafa,” Alcaraz recalled in press. “I think that I played a great match against him. But I think that I learned how to play in a semifinal in a Masters 1000. It was my first one, so now second one I managed to do much better than in Indian Wells.

“It was [a] different match, I mean, this one than Rafa’s match. But I think that the nerves – the tough moments – I managed better in this one than Indian Wells.”

Will Alcaraz be able to handle the moment of playing in his first Masters 1000 final? From watching how he comported himself this week against Tsitsipas and Hurkacz, back-to-back Top-10 opponents, one gets the distinct impression that he will.

“I don’t think Alcaraz will be intimidated by anything [from Ruud],” Courier said. “They are going to go to town on Sunday and light this place up. This crowd is already completely enamored by Carlos Alcaraz. There is no doubt that not only are they seeing the future [of tennis], they are seeing the present. This kid is already this season No. 3 on the ATP Tour Race to Turin in terms of points behind Nadal and Medvedev. He is fast rising. You are watching a comet. He is something special.”

What does Ruud, Alcaraz’s title match opponent, think about the young Spaniard? “Well, I think we all can see like how talented he is, that he has a very good mind for tennis,” Ruud said. “He understands the game very well. He knows when to hit certain shots and when probably not to.

“He is, at his highest level, very, very good, but he also plays high risk. So, he goes for the shots quite often.”

Against Hurkacz, Alcaraz hit 22 winners but also committed 21 unforced errors. However, he wasn’t afraid to rely upon his deceptive but effective drop shot in key moments, in which he won 11 of 16 point opportunities.

“Obviously,” Ruud concluded, “I think we all know how great of a player he already is and how we will see him around for many years.”

By the numbers

Carlos Alcaraz is undefeated in ATP Tour finals, capturing the 2021 Umag and 2022 Rio de Janeiro titles. The Spanish teen also defeated Sebastian Korda for the 2021 Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals championship.