“My dream in tennis is to become one of the best in history. I know it’s a big dream, maybe too big, but in this world you have to dream big and think in the same way. I want to be one of the best in history and I’ll work for that”. These are the words of a Carlos Alcaraz who turns 20 tomorrow and for the third consecutive year will celebrate his birthday with the fans in the Caja Mágica. The Murcia native, who two years ago celebrated his coming of age with his first match against his idol Rafa Nadal, has since enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top. Just 24 months later and before the age of 20, he has already won a Grand Slam, been the world number one and has nine ATP titles to his name. Very few players can claim to have matched this raft of achievements at such an early age. He is breaking records at an astonishing rate.
Behind those achievements lies a player who feeds off victory, but who also seems to have no difficulty keeping his feet firmly on the ground. The man behind a thus far successful campaign at this extended Mutua Madrid Open, is something of a team player. It is unusual to hear him talk in first person singular, ‘we’ being his favoured pronoun in press conferences, even though he might be talking about match situations, for example, yesterday he declared: “it was a miracle we saved that game…”. Aware of the importance of his team, the first person plural has become his default.
He knows that if he wants to stay at the top, he will have to work hard every day, this is non-negotiable: “Setting goals every day, not just in matches, but in practice. You have one or two hours to concentrate and maintain your level during training, and you do that day after day. Focusing and maintaining your level. It’s the only way you can work on consistency and intensity. There’s no secret”.
He is young and fearless, but still has plenty to learn in a sport where psychology now plays a huge role and in which the vast majority of players lose every week and have to deal with defeat and all it brings: “There is failure in sport, Kobe Bryant spoke about it, he said how you deal with failure is up to you. For my part, I take it as a way to keep learning. If you fail on Monday, you try again on Tuesday. If you fail on Tuesday you try again on Wednesday. You have to keep taking small steps forward, you will fall down, but the important thing is how you deal with that fall to bounce back stronger. Failure shouldn’t be taken as a negative, but as a positive to keep learning from”.
In the same vein, he knows how important it is to have a clear conscience about your day’s work: “many of the problems we players have come from the fear of losing. But really it’s the opposite, you have to leave the court happy, whether you win or lose, about the way you did it. If I go for everything, play my own game and I’m brave, I’ll leave the court happy, even if I end up losing”.
Remember, this is a young man who is one day away from his 20th birthday. Anyone listening might be excused for thinking he was a veteran player with decades of experience under his belt. The fact that he is still yet to celebrate two decades of life make his achievements so far all the more remarkable. The Mutua Madrid Open is about to host another Carlos Alcaraz birthday party. All we have to do is sit back and enjoy it.