#NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, 16, broke through on the ATP Tour in February, beating 2017 Monte-Carlo finalist Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Rio de Janeiro 7-6(2), 4-6, 7-6(2) to become the youngest player to win an ATP 500 match in series history (since 2009) and the youngest Spaniard to win an ATP Tour match since Rafael Nadal at 2002 Mallorca.
Alcaraz is coached by former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who spoke to ATPTour.com about what it’s like to work with a rising star, which current stars Alcaraz plays like, and more.
Since you didn’t start competing in ATP events until your later teens, how interesting is it to see how well Carlos has competed at only 16?
The thing is, he always was competing against guys who were older. He’s used to playing against people older than him. So now, even the match against Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Rio, the guy was 32 and he’s 16, and obviously the most important thing for him is that he improved physically very much. That’s why he can stay in the match for three and a half hours and he can play against guys who are older than him.
How did you get to know Carlos? Did he come to your academy or did you see him at a tournament?
I saw him here at the JC Ferrero-Equelite Sports Academy playing a tournament. We have a lot of tournaments here at the academy. I saw him for the first time playing a tournament and it helps that he lives very close to the academy in Murcia, just an hour from here. So it was very easy seeing him play some matches.
I remember him playing a Futures when he was 14 and he got his first [FedEx] ATP Ranking point. I went to see some matches and I heard about this little boy who was playing at such a good level at the age of 14, so I drove over there to watch him. His agent is the same as Pablo Carreno Busta’s, and Carreno is here practising at the academy, so it helps to have a good relationship with him at the end to get him into this team.
For those who haven’t seen Carlos play, how would you describe his game style and is there a player who he plays similarly to?
He likes to be very aggressive all the time. He likes to play close to the baseline. He’s not the typical player who only plays on clay courts. He likes to play on hard courts and he loves to play on grass. He played last year for the first time on grass and he loved it. He loves to finish points at the net.
At the beginning, when I first met him, I almost was sure that his best level was on clay, but I think now he’s improving so much on hard court and I think he can even give a little bit more level on hard court, so that’s very good. He’s playing very aggressive from the baseline and he needs to improve a little bit his serve. But for 16, he’s serving well.
If I have to say someone that I can compare him to, it’s the game of Novak Djokovic or maybe Roger Federer. They like to be aggressive from the baseline and they can go to the net to finish the point.
How do you balance when you or someone else tells him of such a comparison, while not allowing it to get to his head?
Usually he hears people who say he is going to be the next Rafael Nadal… of course, it’s going to be difficult for him to [keep things] normal and stay calm and not tell me, ‘Why are they saying this to me?’
But he’s a little bit used to it, because most of the people here in Spain, they come to him many times and tell him he’s going to be the next Rafa Nadal. Finally, I think he’s used to it and he put it away and he goes his own way to always work very hard and to try to make his own career.
Of course, the comparison is going to be there because for people here in Spain, it’s been a long time that we haven’t had anyone at the age of 16 or 17 [playing] this kind of level. But the team that is around him, we have to try to [keep a circle] around him to help him try to put this pressure away, to make him calm, to keep things normal, so he can go his own way.
Andy Roddick has said something he looks for in younger players is easy power. Do you think Carlos has that?
In his performance on the court, he has very fast hands. He plays from the backhand and the forehand very strong all the time. He’s very quickly going with the ball on the court, and that’s why he can play at a very high rhythm against these guys.
In Rio we were practising with Lajovic, Carballes [Baena], even Thiem, and he’s one of the guys who can play at the same rhythm as the player on the other side of the court any time. This helps a lot for him to play against them.
How rare is that attribute for someone Carlos’ age?
It’s very rare. Obviously you cannot find that many people who are 16 and can play that kind of level that easy going. A year and a half before he was playing juniors and he didn’t see many boys that had the game that Carlos has. That’s why maybe Carlos is at this level now.
Does Carlos look at guys like Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jannik Sinner for motivation given how much success they’ve had at a young age?
Of course he thinks a little bit about it. Obviously the motivation that he has is to play these kinds of tournaments and these kinds of matches. It’s very important to him to be very motivated and one of the big reasons to increase his level very much is the team that he has around him. He has an unbelievable team around him that helps him to stay motivated every day and try to work a little bit different than people at his age, to help him to be a professional on the court. I think that’s very important.
What has he improved the most since you first met him?
Mentally. I think he has taken a big step up, because when I first met him, he was 14. Now he’s almost 17, so I think mentally he grew up a little bit. Physically, of course, he’s a little bit stronger than when I met him for the first time. But I think his mental game is what he improved the most.
Knowing that you still play tennis a lot, do you ever jump on court with Carlos as sort of a test?
I’ve hit with him many times and I play some matches against him, to have some fun together. I stay every day on the court and I can see the big difference in how much he’s improved since last year. But obviously we have fun when we play some matches.
Do you get nervous watching Carlos compete and if so how nervous?
Of course I’m nervous, because when you are working with someone every day and you are after some goals that you put on the table at the beginning of the year you want him to reach those goals. Obviously when he’s in the match I’m a little bit nervous. As a player, I tried to be calm, but of course inside of me I have some big nerves [watching him].