Carlos Alcaraz’s first steps towards professionalism came almost a decade ago, away from the media spotlight that now accompanies him as he prepares to fight Saturday for a second-week berth at Roland Garros. Already he is the youngest player to reach the third round of the clay-court major in the past 29 years. It came at an event on the old Nike Junior Tour, for young promising players. Back then, he began to build the framework of the team that today allows the current No. 97 in the FedEx ATP Rankings to shine.
“I started watching Carlitos when he was 10 years old at under-11 tournaments,” explains Albert Molina, the Murcia native’s agent and former representative of David Ferrer and Nicolás Almagro. “He left a very good impression on me. I remember him as a skinny kid who did a lot of things well. I was following him a lot and I tried to convince his parents to work with me. I knew I could help them with everything they needed in the development and progress of their son. At 11 years of age, after eight months watching him, his father decided it was a good idea, although he still thought maybe it was premature to have an agent at such a young age”.
In those days, Molina had two mountains to climb: Not only did he need to win over Alcaraz’s parents, he also had to defend his decision to multinational IMG, one of the biggest sports agencies in the world.
“I really pressured IMG to include such a young player,” admits Molina. “Seven years ago it wasn’t normal to start working with an 11-year-old boy, but I really believed in him and I thought that if we did things right we could get good results. He hasn’t come close to letting us down. I didn’t know that he would be among the Top 80 in the world at 18, and I would be lying if I told you otherwise. I did know that he was a player with huge potential to do big things, above all if he was well guided.”
Shortly before his 15th birthday, and after helping him sign with a racquet sponsor (Babolat) and a sports clothing company (Lotto), Molina made a key move for Alcaraz’s future: finding an experienced, first-rate coach who was willing to embark on a long-term project and take him as far as possible. The man he settled on was former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.
“Carlitos was playing in a Futures tournament in Murcia and I told Ferrero to come and see him,” remembers the manager. “Straight away you saw something different. There were players of his age that only did two things, but they did them very well, really making the most of them,” he continues. “With him it was the opposite. He had such a variety that he would often get it wrong by not being organised, he would get mixed up. In one point he would approach the net, open up angles, play a slice, a lob…,” he adds. “And you could already see his winning character, bravery and daring”.
After reaching an agreement with Ferrero, starting out on an adventure that continues to this day, Alcaraz adjusted to an intermediate training system: he would travel to Equelite, Ferrero’s academy in Villena, for two days and spend the rest of the time Murcia, where his life was. That would progressively change with the goal of the player spending more time at the academy with his coach.
Although he only became an adult a few weeks ago, Alcaraz already has a perfectly organised team that goes far beyond Molina and Ferrero: in Villena, Alberto Lledó (fitness coach) and Juanjo Moreno (physio); in Murcia, Álex Sánchez (fitness coach), Fran Rubio (physio) and Juan José López (doctor).
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“That’s why I sought out Juan Carlos, to convince him and organise a professional team for him,” explains Molina. “The most difficult thing is detecting talent at that age, but the next step is trying to build a good structure. That’s the way to go for a player to reach his full potential”.
It’s clear that Alcaraz is still yet to reach that potential, but his results on the ATP Tour hint at plenty of success in the coming years.
“For example, when he was growing, he started to produce spectacular ball speed on his forehand,” says Molina. “These things are invisible. Luckily, I’ve followed the last 25 generations of 14-year-olds and that’s helped me compare Carlos with other great players at that age. In my 25 years, he is one of the ones who had the biggest impact. Without a doubt, he has a place among a special group of tennis players”.
– This story first appeared on ATPTour.com’s Spanish website.