The new Nadal. The successor. The heir. Since his arrival on the circuit, and even more so in recent months over his increasingly striking performances, the label has stuck to Carlos Alcaraz’s skin. Filiation has its reasons that reason ignores, but beyond their nationality, the comparison between the record holder of Grand Slam victories and the one who, it is hard to imagine, will not win at least a few Majors in the years to come has- does it really make sense?
In other words, if the Alcaraz phenomenon came to us from South America, the Antipodes, Asia or even from another European country, would the label “New Nadal” be even sketched? On a strictly tennis level, the rapprochement has its limits. In an interview recently granted to our colleagues from the newspaper Le Soir, Justine Hénin went even much further: “The comparison with Nadal, for me, does not hold water“She sees it more as a combination of the three giants, Nadal therefore, but also Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.”There seems to be a good mix of all three, she says. In terms of play, Carlos Alcaraz seems to me even more complete than Nadal, Federer or Djokovic.”
Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal.
Credit: Quentin Guichard
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More complete and versatile than Nadal at the same age
For Mats Wilander, it is also difficult to bring the two Spanish players together without falling into a certain caricature. According to the Swede, former world number one, the palette of the younger of the two is more extensive than was that of his eldest at the same age. “I think Alcaraz has more variations, judges the Eurosport consultant. That’s what’s most amazing about him. There is variety in the way he uses his power, and there is also finesse, in the way he uses the drop shots in particular. He seems to me more advanced than Rafa was at 19 in this area.”
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“Rafa imposed his way of playing morecontinues Wilander. It was his style, his game, when Alcaraz seems to adapt more to what is in front. If the guy is far, he will use the drop shot. If, on the contrary, his opponent sticks to the bottom line, Carlos will play on his power, or with a little height, to make him retreat. Even if, on the backhand side, he sometimes still lacks a bit of variation, especially on the slice, I think he uses more shots than Rafa at the same age and maybe even than any other 19-year-old player, except maybe Federer, who is another kind of animal again. But this combination of power and subtlety in Carlos is really very impressive..”
More versatile, however, does not necessarily mean stronger or more dangerous for the competition. Paradoxically, this is not necessarily always an advantage for such a young player, according to the triple winner of Roland-Garros. A wider palette means more advantages, of course, but also more elements to assimilate. “It’s more complete, but I’m not saying it’s absolutely bettersays Mats Wilander. Sometimes, at such a young age, the ‘simpler’ players are also the strongest, because they have fewer options or they are more reluctant to use various options.” In the very short term, simplicity also has its virtues.
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But it is precisely in this that Carlos Alcaraz is a rather exceptional specimen: despite his lack of experience at the highest level, the Spaniard already manages to make the most of his entire range. What Justine Hénin calls her “great tennis maturity.”
It is undoubtedly if we put the racket aside that the (already) double winner in Masters 1000 comes closest to the man with 13 titles at Roland-Garros. The charisma. The attitude. The passion that irrigates them and that they diffuse. The course, too. Above all. We had not seen such a strong player so young since Rafael Nadal.
But the parallel is even more tempting in this spring of 2022, that of his 19th birthday and his real explosion. Like a certain Nadal at exactly the same age, in 2005. Until this season, Alcaraz was behind the Majorcan’s passing times. This is no longer the case, but the upcoming Paris fortnight will be a real revealer. It was there, at 19, that “Rafa” won his first major title.
If Carlos Alcaraz wins the timpani in a fortnight on the Philippe-Chatrier court, there is no doubt that the name “New Nadal” will start again. He would be only the second player under 20 to win a Grand Slam. The other ? Rafael Nadal. As, as a bonus, it would be on the same court and at the same age within four weeks, the comparison would hold water with regard to the trajectory of the two champions, even if it still would not make more sense tennistically.
Alcaraz, the X factor: “He arrives by assuming his favorite status like Nadal in 2005”
He gives the impression that he plays tennis just because he loves the sport
The difference is the opposition. Unfortunately for him (but so much the better for us), Juan Carlos Ferrero’s protege has to deal with Nadal and Djokovic. The young Rafa did not face two monsters of this magnitude. Of course, Roger Federer was already the boss of world tennis, but clay was his “weakest” link, with all the necessary quotation marks. As Nadal was already evolving at a stratospheric level on his favorite surface, he was the man to beat in this Roland-Garros 2005, more than Alcaraz is today.
In what would become his garden, the left-hander from Manacor would fly over the fortnight and above all master the weight of this favorite status at barely 19 years old. Carlos Alcaraz, whose stature has changed radically compared to the previous Grand Slam (in Melbourne, last January, he was not even among the outsiders of the tournament), will he be able to do the same? Stefanos Tsitsipas is not far from thinking that the Murcian is above that, for the moment anyway: “He gives the impression that he plays tennis simply because he loves the sport. He doesn’t play for the money or the glory or stuff like that. He just genuinely loves being on the court and giving it his all..”
Its history remains to be written and, as Justine Hénin insists, “to now start estimating that he will reach or break some Grand Slam records is a little off the mark, we are not there yet“. But everyone has a presentiment of it, Carlos Alcaraz has everything that makes the stuff of champions of another nature. Everything that Rafael Nadal was already at his age. Everything that he himself could well be. There, distant cousins racket in hand may look like identical twins.
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