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Carlos Alcaraz, at 19, Is a Favorite on the French Open

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PARIS — When the longer term No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero was 19, he got here to Roland Garros for the 1999 French Open qualifying tournament and lost in the primary round.

His pupil, Carlos Alcaraz, is on a more accelerated timetable. At 19, Alcaraz has arrived in Paris because the No. 6 seed within the principal draw and certainly one of the clear favorites.

Along with his all-action style, Alcaraz, the emotive Spanish teenager, plays as if plugged into some renewable source of energy and already has won 4 titles this season. He beat Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic back-to-back on red clay in nerve-jangling duels in Madrid that seemed as much a tribute to Alcaraz’s appetite for combat as to his incandescent talent.

On Friday, two days before the beginning of the French Open, a photograph of Alcaraz, roaring together with his right fist clenched, occupied nearly all of the space on the front page of L’Équipe, the leading French sports publication.

The word is justifiably out. Now, it’s time to learn whether Alcaraz, who’s in the highest half of a top-heavy men’s draw, can manage the moment and the grind of best-of-five-set matches in only his sixth Grand Slam tournament.

“If every part stays normal, and there isn’t a injury, I feel he is completely ready for better of five,” Ferrero said in an interview this week. He added: “His character on the court is so big. He likes to go for the large points and for the large moment and is certainly one of the few guys you can see who’s like this.”

For the reason that Big Three — Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer — took collective command of the lads’s game within the late 2000s, that is the primary time that a next-generation player has come into a serious men’s tournament with this level of buzz and momentum.

“It seems to me, he’s not feeling the pressure, but let’s see when the time comes,” Ferrero said. “I actually have experience with that. I refer to him so much. I feel his commitment to practice and compete is similar as ever. So, let’s see where the limit is for him. And let’s see if he has no limits.”

Ferrero, 42, who won the 2003 French Open and was ranked No. 1 the identical yr, knows greater than most about scaling tennis summits. He has coached Alcaraz since 2018 out of his academy in Villena, Spain, within the stark countryside near Alicante that’s long on dust and hilltop castles and short on modern-age distractions.

When he shouldn’t be traveling on tour, Alcaraz, who’s from El Palmar, a suburb of Murcia, boards on the academy on weekdays before making the hourlong drive to spend weekends together with his family.

“Here we’re really tranquilo,” or calm, Alcaraz said in a recent interview in Villena. “Here it’s tennis, tennis and more tennis. The town is five minutes away by automobile, but in point of fact it’s farther than that.”

Ferrero has been well aware of Alcaraz’s potential since he first saw him in a low-level skilled tournament in Murcia at age 14. Ferrero has taken a considered and caring approach to developing Alcaraz’s game. They’re clearly close, which showed in the course of the Miami Open in March when Ferrero surprised Alcaraz before the ultimate after traveling from Spain following his father’s funeral.

In training, the main target is on accentuating Alcaraz’s varied game: He spends an amazing deal of time at the web and in transition, not only on the baseline. When it comes to hours on court, the goal is quality over quantity, which preserves Alcaraz’s body for the long term while emphasizing intensity.

“The way in which you practice will affect the way in which you play,” Alcaraz said. “Should you don’t train every ball with that intensity and seriousness, how are you going to know the best way to do it in a match?”

Ferrero tries to attract on his own experience and mistakes. He soared to the highest but peaked early at age 23, before falling back due to injuries and the rise of Federer and Nadal. After winning the French Open in 2003, he never advanced past the third round there before retiring in 2012.

Ferrero sometimes didn’t heed his body’s signals and overplayed, which factored into Alcaraz’s decision to withdraw from the Italian Open earlier this month after winning back-to-back tournaments on clay in Barcelona and Madrid. The goal was to present Alcaraz time to get better from the sprained right ankle and blister on his foot that surfaced in Madrid but additionally to present him a break from the commotion and inevitable French Open questions before Paris.

“Let’s just say that he desired to go to Rome, but let’s just say also that he was pondering of the longer term, of what was best for him to reach at Roland Garros at one hundred pc,” Ferrero said.

After winning in Madrid, Alcaraz took three days off and returned home to El Palmar, where he beamed and brandished the Madrid trophy on the balcony of his family’s apartment together with his parents behind him and a big crowd of fans gathered below, including a gaggle of drummers.

One can only imagine the din in El Palmar if Alcaraz were to prevail in Paris.

Ferrero said they did unusually long training sessions in Villena — up to a few hours — to organize for best-of-five-set matches. On Tuesday, Alcaraz had certainly one of his regular sessions on the academy with a Spanish performance psychologist, Isabel Balaguer.

“A variety of players wander away on the way in which trying to administer every part, and I feel psychologists will help so much to maintain them on a great track,” Ferrero said. “It helps with establishing good routines on and off the court. Carlos doesn’t do quite a lot of visualization. They work in one other way, talking in regards to the things which have happened to him, the best way to manage every part, the best way to stay calm and the best way to stick with the feet on the bottom.”

That could possibly be nearly as difficult as outlasting Djokovic from the baseline, but Alcaraz has emphasized that big success doesn’t should result in an enormous head.

“Tennis is a team sport on a regular basis except when you’re on the court,” he said.

This moment in Paris stirs memories of Nadal, the final word Spanish prodigy, who arrived at Roland Garros on a roll in 2005 because the No. 4 seed and won his first Grand Slam title at 19. Nadal’s body of labor was superior at that early stage. He had helped Spain win the Davis Cup in 2004 and won five tournaments on clay in 2005 before arriving in Paris. That was Nadal’s first French Open but only because he missed the tournament in 2003 and 2004 with injuries.

Alcaraz was only 2 years old at that time and never yet pounding balls obsessively in El Palmar against the hitting wall at his family’s sports club. But Alcaraz does remember the 2013 French Open semifinal, when Djokovic was up a break of serve on Nadal within the fifth set only to lose his edge and the match after dropping a degree for touching the web after tapping a seemingly routine overhead winner.

“I watched loads of tennis, but that’s my first really clear memory of a match,” Alcaraz said.

Nine years later, he looks like the largest threat to Nadal and Djokovic at Roland Garros, where all three of them are in the highest half of the draw. Alcaraz is clearly at home on hardcourts — he won the Miami Open this yr — but grew up training almost exclusively on clay.

He already has played within the French Open: He lost within the third round last yr to Jan-Lennard Struff, a veteran German. But Alcaraz’s game, strength and confidence have grown considerably since then.

“I see Carlos as a mix of the Big Three,” said Craig O’Shannessy, an Australian tennis-analytics specialist who was a part of Struff’s team last yr. “You’ve got the mentality and tenacity of Nadal and the exquisite timing and willingness to come back to the web of Federer. After which you might have the aggressive baseline play like Djokovic: the facility and suppleness to hit big off either side from the backcourt.”

For now, Alcaraz says his goal is to win certainly one of the three Grand Slam tournaments remaining in 2022. He was beaten within the third round of this yr’s Australian Open in a fifth-set tiebreaker by Matteo Berrettini, double faulting on match point.

“I feel it was the fitting time to lose a match,” Ferrero said. “Perhaps he could have won and gone on to the semifinals like Berrettini, but possibly that will not have been useful as a loss.”

4 months later, after 4 titles, coach and pupil sound less inclined to see the intense side of defeat. Ferrero already has gone all the way in which in Paris, and as Alcaraz spoke on the academy in Villena, he did so in a room crammed with Ferrero’s trophies, including the smaller model of the Coupe des Mousquetaires presented to the lads’s champion at Roland Garros.

“They need to have given him the large one,” Alcaraz said with a chuckle. “I used to be a bit young to recollect a few of these, but this place is filled with memories and essential trophies to Juan Carlos. It’s obviously an inspiration. I hope someday I can match it or go past it.”

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