It has been some time since so many players under the age of 20 were in the third round at Roland Garros. Twenty years, to be precise. Back then, it was Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Tommy Robredo who were making their breakthroughs.
Two decades later, another Spaniard has contributed to the feat: 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz has reached the last 32 in Paris, alongside #NextGenATP Italians Lorenzo Musetti (19) and Jannik Sinner (19).
“I honestly didn’t know, and I hadn’t paid any attention to it. We young players are there, playing well, this means we’re doing the right things,” Alcaraz said of the historic achievement. “I’m still concentrating on myself. I’m happy for them too, but everyone has their own path.”
His coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, with the benefit of his experience, also seemed unsurprised by the feat: “I don’t know if we’re looking at a generational shift, but it would be very good if from now on we saw these players fighting for the majors. It’s true that in recent years that hasn’t happened, hopefully we can see this situation [that we’re seeing with the young players] much more frequently.”
Alcaraz forms part of the ATP Tour rebellion: the charge of #NextGenATP talents aspiring to earn a place among the tour’s elite. At the moment, he is progressing in giant leaps. This year he has been overcoming hurdles at breakneck speed, the latest coming on Thursday, when he reached the third round of Roland Garros – his personal best in a Grand Slam – by beating Nikoloz Basilashvili.
“He’s a totally different player to the one at Roland Garros last year,” warned Ferrero. In just nine months, since the last edition of the French major in September 2020, Alcaraz has gone from being in the Top 200 in the FedEx ATP Rankings to being on the verge of the Top 80. During that time, he has been fine-tuning his game, evolving his body and maturing his mind.
“Mentally, he’s much better prepared,” noted the former World No. 1, who guides Alcaraz from the coaches’ box. “Carlos is playing much more calmly, handling situations better in matches. He’s grown a lot in the last year and even since the Australian Open, where he played pretty well in the match he lost [in second round against Mikael Ymer]. Here he’s playing with much more peace of mind and playing as well as he can.”
The player himself agrees with his coach. “What surprises me is that I’m approaching each match very serenely, very sure of myself. I’m improving on things that I wasn’t doing well at other tournaments and improving my attitude a lot. I’m very proud and I’m surprised to have achieved it so quickly,” Alcaraz said of his performance in Paris.
Although Alcaraz is surprised at his rapid progress, he is perhaps less so at his performances so far on the French clay. “I’m not surprised because I know my ability. I have a lot of confidence in myself and I know that this is something I can always demonstrate. It’s a virtue I have and I’m using it, it’s something I can always use.”
As well as the grandeur of the third round he will face at Roland Garros, terra incognita for the Spaniard, he will have to deal with another new situation: playing this many consecutive matches at one tournament. After three wins in the qualifiers, he has now picked up two more in the main draw and the clash with Jan-Lennard Struff will be his sixth in Paris.
“Carlos is fit,” Ferrero said. “It’s true that he’s been playing a lot of matches in recent weeks, but as it’s a Grand Slam and there are rest days in between, he’s also recovering well. Also, because he’s so young and with the energy he has, everything is going very well, including his fitness.”
Saturday will present the #NextGenATP Spaniard with a new challenge in the City of Lights – the biggest he has ever faced in a Grand Slam – with an opportunity to reach the second week at Roland Garros at stake.
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“What we have to do is play the third round. As simple as that,” Ferrero said. “Young players are always very ambitious, but obviously it would be a mistake to think about the second week. We have to think about Struff, who is a tough player, and not look beyond that because it would be a mistake.”
His pupil is promising the same, aiming to leave his nerves aside and take confidence from the performances he has produced so far.
“The first match you have to win is against yourself,” Alcaraz said. “In the end, knowing how to manage your emotions is very important and I’m getting better at that.”
Whatever happens in the third round, Alcaraz has made it very clear that he now forms part #NextGenATP rebellion.