Carlos Alcaraz’s eye is always on the prize in training sessions. The Spaniard absorbs every moment as if his life depends on it, with his concentration never wavering. As he prepares under the roof of the Allianz Cloud in Milan, where he will bring his spectacular 2021 season to a close, the Murcia native completes his work without missing a single step.
When an instruction comes from former World No. 1 Juan Carlos, Alcaraz executes with the utmost focus. If the exercise is being run by Juanjo Moreno, the physiotherapist and rehab specialist who also helps with fitness coaching, Alcaraz launches his body in compliance with the request. Any message relayed to him by Albert Molina, his agent, is efficiently attended to.
He is a cheerful and affectionate young man, but the smiles disappear when it is time to get to work. It is with this professionalism that the Murcia native is bidding to consolidate himself as the star of his generation, which is under the global spotlight this week at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
The 18-year-old Spaniard is competing in Lombardy as the World No. 32, making him one of the most promising athletes in his sport. With a strong team behind him at the Equelite de Villena Academy, where the work of fitness coach (Alberto Lledo), physiotherapist (Sergio Hernandez) and doctor (Juanjo Lopez), is complemented by that of psychologist (Isabel Balaguer) and the team in Murcia (Alejandro on fitness and Fran on recovery).
While Alcaraz was squaring off against the best young players on Tour, his physio and rehab specialist Juanjo Moreno, who is also responsible for fine-tuning the body of Pablo Carreno Busta, spoke to ATPTour.com about the Spaniard’s daily work.
Alcaraz has really developed physically in the past year, what work has been put in?
With Carlos, it is one of the goals we set ourselves. When he started at the Academy, both the fitness coach and I thought we needed a change in the muscle structures. We needed to work on his musculoskeletal system to give him more speed, more power in his shots and his movement on court. And we based all that on morphology training. Doing fitness work to achieve those goals without him gaining much muscle mass, Carlos’ genetics plus speed-based training has given him the morphotype he has now.
By having a good preseason and training during the year, because he also has to do that as part of the plan, we have arrived at this result. In tournament weeks, we need him to work on his strength. And we also rely a lot on nutrition, eating well. It has been one of the paradigms we have changed with Carlos. The whole blend of factors like good eating, good goal-oriented training and good rest, which is also essential, is a cocktail that has brought us to this point.
How pleased have you been with the progress?
At first, people were surprised about it. We have seen the transformation gradually, even though it has been over a short space of time. It’s the same with children, if you haven’t seen them for a while, you realise how much they change. I remember that at Roland Garros, when the Nike clothes arrived, he tried on the sleeveless t-shirts and then you could really see the muscle definition in his biceps, triceps and shoulders. For me, Carlos now has the physique we were looking for. This season, we still plan to fine-tune it a little bit more. We’re happy with the work that’s been done. Right now, Carlos has reached almost his maximum potential and in terms of body type or muscle definition, let’s say he’s at 90% of his potential. There is always room for improvement and we will improve.
How do you think this change improves his tennis?
When you work on your body, you feel more confident in yourself. You also feel more powerful in a way. It’s not only your appearance that gives you that feeling of power. It’s the internal feelings you have. When I talk with Carlos, I always tell him that the first repetitions don’t count, the last two are the ones that count. The last series or repetitions are the ones where we really get the potential out of him.
If you take that onto a tennis court, it’s the tough games, those final moments when you have to close a match out… there is also a lot of training philosophy in all of that. When you’re used to the effort in training, because we demand it and it’s an act of responsibility on his part, that’s something that transfers to the court.
How would you describe his capacity for hard work?
It’s been a process with Carlos. I remember how he was at first, and it’s normal when something is new to you. But you have to learn to work hard in training. At first, it’s harder, but together with the fitness coaching team at the academy, he was very committed to that philosophy. Juan Carlos is all about pure hard work. We back Juan Carlos up. The work group is very much about that dedication and hard work, always doing more… Ultimately, that rubs off on Carlos.
There’s a great expression that says that when the good part of a team works hard, the mediocre part has to work hard too. In other words, you tend to copy their attitude. Since Carlos started working at the Academy that working methodology has rubbed off on him. Although at first there was a little resistance, he has gradually learned and he is enjoying it. It’s difficult to see the hard work, but you can see the results. It’s hard taking care of nutrition, resting… all the little details. All of that leads you to a result. If that weren’t the case, it would get more difficult. It’s been a daily learning process in a context that has also fed into that journey.
Is he a physical powerhouse?
The first time I evaluated him it was because Juan Carlos brought me to the office. When we completed a set of tests where I have to analyse certain biomechanical aspects, strength deficits that are common in tennis players and certain populational averages, I spoke to Juan Carlos and told him; ‘He’s a Ferrari that needs work.’ And I said: ‘His disposition is very good, but all he has is the bodywork.’ But we were able to work with him and add the engine.
The next step we took was to refer him to a reputable podiatrist, Carles Ruiz. He called me with his assessment after a biomechanical study on his gait… and he said ‘He’s a Ferrari.’ Afterwards, Juan Carlos and Carlos came back from the meeting with the podiatrist and Juan Carlos told me that the podiatrist had said the same as me. And we hadn’t spoken about it!
Carlos has the genetic predisposition to assimilate the work well and for everything to go well. We’ve been able to take advantage of that. Now the results are there.
Now he’s close to the Top 30, how tough is the competition with everyone in peak physical condition?
Right now, Carlos is doing things well. He has deeply ingrained some very good, healthy habits. And he knows that what he has done, picking up these habits that he didn’t have before and has acquired during his time at the Academy, is important.
It was hard work instilling them. They’re habits that are difficult to assimilate, but they’re necessary to maintain and improve the performance of an athlete. The best players in the world tend to be very disciplined when it comes to the small details. For example, eating bananas is something that we have managed to instil in him, because they contain a lot of macronutrients and micronutrients that he’s going to need. It’s now something that he takes as a given and that’s a good step forward.
Ultimately, he now knows, using a phrase that Sergio Ramos often employs, that you have to live and breathe sport. He’s even starting to enjoy that living and breathing. It’s a struggle because it’s hard work, and you think ‘If I don’t like bananas, I’m not going to eat them.’ We’re using the example of bananas, we could also talk about sushi, which has different textures he wasn’t used to. Now, though, he enjoys them. He knows that sushi is healthy food, that it helps us take on glycogen. These are physiological concepts that I am also instilling in him. He’s a kid that is gradually acquiring them.
What’s the next rung on the ladder?
He now has everything he needs to get there. Now it’s a question of him being able to maintain it. I often say ‘If we want to build the best wall in the world, we have to add a brick to it perfectly every day.’ If we manage to add that brick, in the end, we’ll have the strongest and most consistent wall. He knows that every day counts, he knows that he has to add that brick every day. He’s aware that that’s where the difficulty lies. It’s not my metaphor, but he has to get up every day, eat a good breakfast every day, rest well every day, train with intention every day, with a clear goal, be prepared to work hard… Doing that absolutely every day is so simple and so difficult at the same time. That’s all you have to do, but you have to do it every day.
How important is rest for athletes at that age?
For me, recovery is the most important thing. It’s what I try to instil in Carlos and the athletes I work with. Sleep is very important. Together with good hydration, the reintegration of nutrients during competition. Good quality nutrition. Physiotherapy sessions. Doing it there and then and not putting it off. Winding down properly is key. Respecting every single little detail is key. It is simple to follow the steps but very difficult to put them into practice.
Recovery is key to a player performing better or more consistently the day after a tough match than a player who has not followed the recovery process and has to play again the following day. It’s part of the DNA and professionalism of the tennis players from No. 30 to No. 1 in the World. They have to focus on things that are truly important. Recovery is one of them.
What would you like to see from Carlos in the next year?
I’d like him to continue to maintain what we’ve achieved so far. I’d like him to be a little more conscious of the recovery at night, to manage his sleep correctly. At night it’s a little more difficult with social media. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get him to stop and turn the screen off. There are studies that show that white light is not good for achieving a deep, reparative sleep. I’d like him to be more conscious of that.
But if he continues to do things the way he is, I believe Carlos will continue to progress. As he progresses, this becomes more important. It’s true that he has been doing things very well for a couple of years.
He will therefore be a more complete Ferrari?
Yes, we’ve given the Ferrari a lot of horsepower, and we’ll continue to take care of it so that it continues to generate its full potential. We’re going to keep working to get that 10% room for improvement he still has. He’s a great athlete, very professional and he has a good team behind him to do that.