Carlos Alcaraz, 19, is a French Open favorite

Paris – When the next No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero was 19, he went to Roland Garros for the 1999 French Open qualifiers and lost in the first round.

His pupil, Carlos Alcaraz, is on a more accelerated schedule. At the age of 19, Alcaraz arrived in Paris as No. 6 in the main draw and one of the clear favorites.

With his all-encompassing acting style, Alcaraz, an emotional Spanish teenager, plays as if he is involved in some renewable energy source and has already won four titles this season. He defeated Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in a back-to-back back-to-back in a nervous duel in Madrid, which was credited to Alcaraz’s fighting appetite as well as his incandescent talent.

On Friday, two days before the start of the French Open, Alcaraz’s photo, spinning with his right fist, took up almost the entire space on the front page of L’Équipe, the presenter. French sports edition.

The word is justified. Now, it’s time to find out if Alcaraz, who is in the top half of the top-heavy men draw, can manage the moment and draw the best matches in five sets in just his sixth Grand Slam tournament.

“If everything stays normal and there is no injury, I think he is absolutely ready for the top five,” Ferrero said in an interview this week. He added: “His character is very big on the court. He likes to go for big points and big moments and is one of the few guys you see who is like that. ”

Since the Big Three – Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer – took over the collective leadership of the men’s game in the late 2000s, this is the first time a next generation player has come to the top tournament for men with this level of noise and impulse.

“It seems to me that he does not feel pressure, but let’s see when the time comes,” Ferrero said. “I have experience with this. I talk to him a lot. I think his commitment to training and competition is the same as ever. So let’s see where the limit is for him. And let’s see if it has borders. “

Ferrero, 42, who won the 2003 French Open and finished number one the same year, knows more than most about scaling up tennis peaks. He has been coaching Alcaraz since 2018 outside the Spanish academy in Villeneuve, outside the city near Alicante, which is long on dust and hills castles and lacks the distraction of modernity.

When he’s not traveling on tour, Alcaraz, who is from El Palmar, a suburb of Murcia, arrives at the academy on weekdays before traveling for hours on weekends with family.

“We are really quiet here,” Alcaraz said in an interview in Vilnius. “Here is tennis, tennis and other tennis. The city is a five-minute drive away, but in reality it is further away. “

Ferrero was well aware of Alcaraz’s potential after he first saw him at a low-level professional tournament in Murcia at the age of 14. Ferrero took a thoughtful and caring approach to the development of Alcaraz’s game. They are clearly close, as shown at the Miami Open in March when Ferrero surprised Alcaraz before the final After traveling from Spain after his father’s funeral.

Emphasis is placed on accentuating Alcaraz’s varied play during training: he spends a lot of time with the net and in the transition phase, and not just in the early stages. In terms of hours on the court, the goal is quality rather than quantity, which keeps Alcaraz’s body in the long run and emphasizes intensity.

“How you train will affect your game,” Alcaraz said. “If you do not train every ball with such intensity and seriousness, how do you know how to do it in a match?”

Ferrero tries to use his own experience and mistakes. He climbed the peak but reached a peak at an early age of 23, having previously returned due to injury and Federer and Nadal’s ascents. After winning the French Open in 2003, he never made it to the third round there until retiring in 2012.

Ferrero sometimes ignored body signals and played too much, which led to Alcaraz’s decision to pull out of the Italian Open earlier this month after winning a series of clay tournaments in Barcelona and Madrid. The goal was to give Alcaraz time to recover from the right leg sprain and foot bladder that appeared in Madrid, but it also rested him from the unavoidable questions of unrest and the French Open to Paris.

“Let’s just say he wanted to go to Rome, but let’s also say that he was thinking about the future, what was best for him to come to Roland Garros 100 percent,” Ferrero said.

After the victory in Madrid, Alcaras rested for three days and returned home to El Palmar, where he defeated and Took the Madrid Cup On the balcony of his family apartment, behind him gathered a large crowd of parents and fans, including a group of drummers.

There can only be an agitation in El Palmar if Alcaraz wins in Paris.

Ferrero said they had an unusually long workout in Vilnius – up to three hours – to prepare for the best matches in five sets. On Tuesday, Alcaraz had one of his regular sessions at the academy with Spanish play psychologist Isabel Balaguer.

“A lot of players get lost along the way, trying to manage everything and I think psychologists can help a lot on their good path,” Ferrero said. “It helps to establish a good routine on and off the court. Carlos does not do much visualization. “They work differently, talking about what happened to him, how to manage everything, how to stay calm and how to stay on the ground.”

It may be almost as difficult as ousting Djokovic in the early stages, but Alcaras stressed that great success should not lead to a big chapter.

“Tennis is always a team sport, except when you are on the court,” he said.

In Paris, this moment evokes memories of Nadal, the Spanish supreme wonder who arrived at Roland Garros in 2005 as No. 4 and won his first Grand Slam title at the age of 19. . He helped Spain win the Davis Cup in 2004 and won five clay tournaments before arriving in Paris in 2005. It was Nadal’s first French Open, but only because he missed the tournament in 2003 and 2004 due to injury.

Alcaraz was only 2 years old at the time and had not yet hit the ball obsessively on the wall of his family’s sports club in El Palmar. But Alcaraz remembers the semifinals of the 2013 French Open when Djokovic lost a service break on Nadal in the fifth set, and the match after he scored a point for touching the net, after touching the winner of a seemingly routine overhead.

“I watched a lot of tennis, but this is my first really vivid memory of the match,” Alcaraz said.

Nine years later, he poses the biggest threat to Nadal and Djokovic at Roland Garros, where he is in the top half of all three draws. Alcaraz is clearly at home on heavy courts – he won the Miami Open this year – but has grown up training almost exclusively on clay.

He has already played in the French Open: last year he lost in the third round to veteran German Jan-Leonard Struff. But Alcaraz’s play, strength and self-confidence have increased significantly since then.

“I see Carlos as a mix of the Big Three,” said Craig O’Shea, an Australian tennis analyst who was part of the Struff team last year. You have Nadal mentality and endurance, sophisticated timing and readiness to get into Federer’s net. And then you have an aggressive base game like Djokovic: strength and flexibility to hit big on both sides in the backcourt.

For the time being, Alcaraz says his goal is to win one of the three Grand Slam tournaments left in 2022. He was defeated in the third round of this year’s Australian Open in the fifth set in a tiebreak by Matteo Beretini, with a double error of the match.

“I think it was a good time to lose the match,” Ferrero said. Maybe he could have won like Beretin and reached the semi-finals, but maybe that would not have been a loss.

Four months later, after four titles, the coach and the student are less inclined to see the bright side of defeat. Ferrero had already traveled to Paris, and as Alcaraz spoke at the Villeneuve’s academy, he did so in a room full of Ferrero’s cups, including a small model from the Coupe des Mousquetaires, which he presented to men’s champion Roland Garros.

“They should have given him a big one,” Alkaraz said with a laugh. “I was a little young to remember some of them, but this place is full of memories and important cups for Juan Carlos. It is clearly an inspiration. I hope one day I will be able to match it or overcome it. “

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