Carlos Alcaraz, still only 18, was a portrait of poise in winning his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami back in March. But when they handed him the phone and he heard Spain’s King Felipe VI, with some congratulatory words, he lost his composure and fell apart.
A few months later, three days after his 19th birthday, the muscular Spaniard had a monumental run in Madrid. He defeated countryman and idol, No. 4-ranked Rafael Nadal, in the quarter-finals, No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and No. 3 Alexander Zverev in the final – for his second Masters 1000 trophy. Afterward, King Felipe shook his hand and posed for photos with the still ill-at-ease youngster.
After winning the US Open, becoming the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first title at Roland Garros in 2005, the freshly minted No. 1 player in the world was the guest of the King at Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid. This time, Alcaraz looked and felt more comfortable. Indeed, he seems to be growing into his role as the reigning monarch in men’s tennis.
“It was amazing,” Alcaraz said Sunday in an interview with the ATP at the Astana Open. “Everybody wants to meet the King of Spain. “It’s crazy when you enter, [seeing] all the people working. It’s a lot.
“Dreaming all these years, I’m probably in a movie.”
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The sequel begins in Kazakhstan, where Alcaraz is the top seed and Tuesday plays lucky loser David Goffin in the third match on centre court at the National Tennis Centre. Goffin was elevated into the main draw when Denmark’s Holger Rune pulled out with a right knee injury. Alcaraz defeated Goffin in their only previous meeting, 6-3, 6-3 in a second-round match in Melbourne last year.
The phenomenal field in Kazakhstan also includes four other Grand Slam singles champions: Novak Djokovic, a 21-time major winner, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Daniil Medvedev.
Like many of the professional players in the game today, Alcaraz dreamed of becoming the world’s No. 1 player and a first-time Grand Slam champion. On the same day, 11 September, he simultaneously achieved both of those goals. He is the youngest No. 1 player in the ATP Tour’s history, going back to 1973. And he did it the hard way, becoming only the third man to win back-to-back-to-back five set matches on the way to a Grand Slam title; he was on court for nearly 24 hours, an entire day in the real world.
Hours after the match, he said he “turned off my mind and spent quality time” with members of his team and family. And then he went right back to work. Five days later, he was playing a Davis Cup match in Valencia, Spain. It had been only three weeks since his triumph in New York when he sat down to talk in Astana.
“I haven’t had too much time to understand what I achieved at US Open,” Alcaraz said. “Yeah, honestly, I feel normal. I feel like I’m the same kid, the same guy. Of course, it’s great to achieve what I achieved at the US Open and [becoming] No. 1 in the world, but I feel the same. It’s the tennis world – week after week, tournament after tournament.
“You have to keep focused on your goals and training.”
After losing to Canada’s Felix Auger-Alliassime, Alcaraz rallied to defeat Soonwoo Kwon of Korea and help send Spain to the quarter-finals, where they will play Croatia next month in Australia with a chance to win the Davis Cup title.
When Monday’s Pepperstone ATP Rankings came out, not only was Alcaraz at the top, but Nadal had risen to No. 2. It was the first time that two players from the same country were 1-2 in 22 years, when America’s Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi did it.
“It means a lot to be part of the Spanish history,” Alcaraz said. “For me, to have two players at the top, is crazy.”
His goal, he said, is to finish the year as the No.1-ranked player.
“I think I said at beginning of the year that the goal was to be in the first 15 players,” Alcaraz said. “And now I’m No 1. From now until the end of the year, I have some good tournaments ahead. [My goal] is to show the best of myself in those tournaments.
“I never thought I’d be the No. 1 this fast.”