Carlos Alcaraz was flat on his back, the cool of the Ashe Stadium cement a welcomed relief after sweating through the very biggest win of his career, a four-hour-long, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2), 0-6, 7-6(5) upset of third-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas in Round 3 of the 2021 US Open. The Spaniard, all of 18 years old, palmed his face amidst the New York roar, unable to fully process all that he had just pulled off.
“I have no words to explain how I’m feeling right now,” said Alcaraz, who was born in El Palmar, Murcia, in southeastern Spain. “I just don’t know what happened out there on the court. I can’t believe that I beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic match. For me, it’s a dream come true.”
Two days later, Alcaraz would become the tournament’s youngest quarterfinalist of the Open Era, and the youngest at any major since Michael Chang at Roland Garros in 1990, more than a decade before Alcaraz was born.
Former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero knew what it took to win weighty matches on that court, the grandest in the game. The man who earned the nickname El Mosquito for his buzzing, all-court attack had reached the US Open final in 2003, falling just short of the title to home favorite Andy Roddick. Alcaraz might not have fully believed his accomplishment, but Ferrero had long been convinced the kid he had first spotted as a 14-year-old at a junior tournament back in Spain was going to do great things in the sport, as long as he showed patience and put in the work.
“He has a lot of potential. He already has a great level of tennis, but I really believe that he’s going to be a fantastic player in the near future,” Ferrero told me in New York. “When somebody at his age is able to do the things that he’s doing, it’s because you have something special. At the same time, he’s humble enough to keep working. He’s passionate about the game. I really believe that he’s a complete player. But he’s just 18, so he has plenty of time.”
Alcaraz would add two more Top-10 wins over Italians Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner in Vienna and Paris, respectively, and capture the season-ending Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, achieving a career-high year-end ranking of No. 32. Last month, he topped Argentine Diego Schwartzman, 6-4, 6-2, to take the Rio de Janeiro trophy, the youngest ATP 500 champion since the category was created in 2009.
Now ranked No. 19, Alcaraz finds himself through to his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal in Indian Wells, having won 16 of his last 17 matches. Those marquee wins are no longer taking him by surprise.
“I feel really comfortable on court. I’m playing at a great level,” Alcaraz explained after his 7-5, 6-1 Round-of-16 dismissal of Gael Monfils in Stadium 2. “I trust myself on court. Rio was an amazing week for me. I came here knowing I could put up results. I’ve played some good matches here. I’m really enjoying every single second out there. That’s the most important thing, enjoying every moment. I think I’m doing that, and the results are coming.”
The recent Men’s Health cover boy is in demand these days, learning to balance all the asks that are part and parcel of his on-court success. Clipping on his microphone for yet another on-camera interview on Thursday, Alcaraz seemed to be handling all the attention with aplomb.
“It’s all good,” he said. “It means you are winning.”
Next up for Alcaraz is defending BNP Paribas Open champion Cameron Norrie, a familiar foe whom he summarily dismissed, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, in the opening round during his US Open breakthrough. It’s yet another step in the career of a dynamic player who’s showing that he not only has all the weaponry but the mindset to deliver on his obvious promise.
“I got absolutely whacked by him last time,” said the 12th-ranked Norrie. “He’s one of the best young up-and-coming players, really solid from both sides, has won a 500 already this year, he’s confident. It’s going to be a tough one.”
For now, the youngest BNP Paribas Open quarterfinalist since Chang (1989) will keep working, charging ever nearer to his dreams, patient but determined.
“When I was a child, I always dreamed I would be able to be No. 1 in the world, the best in the world in tennis, win Grand Slams,” he said. “Every day that I put in the hard work, the results are coming. Every day I can see those goals closer.”