From the Murcian's first title in Umag, where another edition of the Croatian tournament begins this Wednesday, to the world 'top 5'
It was easy to see a year ago that Carlos Alcaraz was going to make an important leap. On these dates he won his first title and gave the first blow of a progression that he had been taking care of little by little, with alternations between the Challenger circuit and the ATP and with a third round at Roland Garros that caught the attention of the whole tennis world. .
But at the end of July, in Umag (Croatia), in one of those few clay court tournaments held after Wimbledon, Alcaraz took the final step. He won his first ATP title in the final against Richard Gasquet (6-2, 6-2), at the age of 18 years, 2 months and 14 days.
Earlier than Pete Sampras, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic (19 years old) and Roger Federer (20 years old. He almost caught up with Rafael Nadal, who lifted his first title in Sopot (Poland) at the age of 18, two months and eight days. The inscription given by the ATP for lifting that first title in 2004 reads Rafael Nadel, not Rafael Nadal, an error that would not be repeated in the 91 titles that followed.
A steady rise
That title in Umag, which puts him among the 49 Spaniards to have won at least one trophy, was followed by the quarterfinals at the US Open, his great presentation to the public. In the best possible scenario, with the New York crowd in the stands, Alcaraz began to give off the aroma of a champion that has accompanied him on all the tracks in the world and has made him the favorite of the fans.
The first victory against a 'top 5', against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open, first semifinals in an ATP 500 in Vienna, victory in the Next Gen Finals and among the best 50 in the world before the end of the year. All for a tennis player who less than two years before was out of the top 500 on the circuit.
2022 was the unexpected springboard. A leap of many miles for a boy who would not turn 19 until May. The first impulse came in Rio de Janeiro, with five wins that gave him his first ATP 500, the earliest to achieve it since Nadal, who pocketed the first in Acapulco 2005. And it was followed by the Masters 1,000 in Miami, where Alcaraz was crowned as the sixth in history to win a tournament of this category, just ten days after hunting down Nadal and his Monte Carlo 2005.
Alcaraz's first year in the elite has been marked by precocity, as the titles in Barcelona and Madrid later confirmed, but also by caution, as demonstrated by the defeat at Roland Garros against one of his rivals for the next few years, Alexander Zverev, and at Wimbledon against Jannik Sinner.
Even the Hamburg thing is also a wake-up call, because he fell to a tennis player of a similar age like Lorenzo Musetti, who is 20 years old, and who broke his idyll with the finals. Until last Sunday, Alcaraz had won the five ATP finals that he had played, in addition to adding the Next Gen Finals there.
The final on German soil, yes, means he gets into the top five of the ranking for the first time in his career, at 19 years, two months and 20 days, the eighth earliest in history. He is only surpassed by Sampras, Nadal, Mats Wilander, Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Michael Chang. Behind are Djokovic (19 years, 11 months and eight days) and Federer (21 years, 5 months and 19 days).
With a final or title in Umag, Alcaraz will climb to fourth place, so he could be the sixth youngest to do so. The great objective is to be the youngest number one in history, an achievement that is within reach, since he has a year and a half ahead of him to surpass Lleyton Hewitt, who achieved it at 20 years, 8 months and 23 days. Of course, right now he is separated by almost 3,000 points from the top marked by the Russian Daniil Medvedev.
A year ago he entered Umag as number 73 in the world and now he does so as the main favorite to lift the title. He is the first seed and will debut this Wednesday against the winner of the duel between Jiri Vesely and Federico Delbonis. On the horizon of the final appears a possible duel against Sinner, his executioner at Wimbledon. Umag no longer offers the attractions of a year ago, but it maintains a sentimental point in Alcaraz's career, which is why he flew directly from Hamburg so as not to miss the appointment in Croatia.