October 23, 2020

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Alcaraz

Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz lost a tight one Monday in his Grand Slam debut. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

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ROLAND GARROS – Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz, whose early-career exploits on clay have him one to keep an eye out for, made his Roland Garros debut Monday in the singles qualifying.

Alcaraz was still just 16 when he defeated veteran countryman Albert Ramos-Viñolas in the first round of the ATP Tour event in Rio de Janeiro in the winter of 2020. That got him a lot of attention.

Now 17, he jumped into the top 200 after becoming the second-youngest ever Spanish player to win a Challenger last month in Trieste.

(Guess who was the youngest? Rafael Nadal all the way back in 2003).

Alcaraz came through the qualifying to win that one, and reached the final at another clay Challenger in Cordenons the following week.

Alcaraz
Alcaraz gets airborne during his first-round qualifying match at Roland Garros Monday. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

A lot of early promise

Alcaraz is in good company amongst the new generation as well, joining Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime and US Open finalist Alexander Zverev amongst the youngest Challenger champions.

He was at No. 490 when he began 2020 at the entry level, playing (and winning) a pair of $15,000 Futures events in Manacor, Spain.

He had a wild card into the main draw at Indian Wells last March. And then the pandemic hit.

ATP
Carlos Alcaraz was in Indian Wells, preparing to make his main-draw debut, when Covid hit. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

“I had a good career, but he can do even better,” said former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, who has coached him for two years now.

That’s saying a lot.

Grand Slam debut for Alcaraz

Alcaraz made his Grand Slam debut Monday the best way; he earned his own way in with his ranking.

And he had a promising draw. Alcaraz faced Aleksandar Vukic, a 24-year-old Aussie who, ranked few spots behind him last week at No. 190, was at a career high despite being seven years older.

Vukic had a little more experience at the Grand Slam level, though; he reached the final round of qualifying at the Australian Open this year.

And in the end, Vukic prevailed. He came back from a set down to win 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 to move on. It was that close.

Second RG appearance for Alcaraz

The kid’s career path hasn’t really been focused on the juniors.

Alcaraz did play some as a 15-year-old, and he got to the French Open and Wimbledon juniors last year as a 16-year-old.

He made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last July, in his final junior event. He lost to American Martin Damm.

At Roland Garros a few weeks earlier, he lost in the first round to Damm’s IMG training pal and doubles partner, Toby Kodat, 6-4, 6-4.

To go from that to the qualifying in the grownups main draw in a year, is impressive.

Alcaraz
Kodat, the half-brother of former top-10 player Nicole Vaidisova, defeated Alcaraz in the first round of the RG juniors last year, and made the final. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

(Kodat, also 17, made the junior final a year ago, losing to Holger Rune. He is inside the top 400 in doubles in the ATP Tour rankings but at No. 1227 in singles. He’s playing a $25K in the Czech Republic this week. It just shows you that it can happen awfully quickly).

And it gives you an idea of how much the men’s game has changed in 30 years.

Long ago, 17-year-old Mats Wilander … won the thing. And 17-year-old Michael Chang did it seven years later. It would be an absolute miracle if something like that happened in the 2020s.

Wilander had won the boys’ title a year before his 1982 run. And he was already in the top 20 in the world.

Chang barely played the juniors (two US Opens – the second of which had him losing to Pete Sampras in the second round in 1987) and one Youth Cup event. Chang, too, was already top 20 when he won at Roland Garros.

Alcaraz kept his cool

All in all, Alcaraz was poised even when things stopped going his way late in the second and into the third.

As the match was being played on a court near to the players facilities under Suzanne-Lenglen, the match drew a lot of attention. Coaches and players – Jack Sock, Ilya Ivashka, Sebastian Korda and others – stopped to check out the new kid.

Alcaraz
Jack Sock and coach Alex Bogomolov were among the many interested onlookers for Carlos Alcaraz’s Grand Slam debut Monday. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)