A smile is never far from Carlos Alcaraz’s face in the Caja Mágica, where one year ago he delighted the Spanish fans with an unforgettable run to the title. The Murcia native comes to the Mutua Madrid Open as one of the biggest names on tour, an icon of Spanish sport and, in the immediate future, a man with a tremendous opportunity to defend his title in the Manolo Santana Stadium.
In the midst of a formidable season, Alcaraz arrives in Madrid with a 23-2 record in 2023, and he will be determined to strengthen his dominance on clay. After a successful defence of his crown at the ATP 500 in Barcelona, the possibility of extending his legacy at the Spanish ATP Masters 1000 is within reach.
“Physically, I feel good, I feel 100%”, admitted Alcaraz before competition gets underway in the Caja Mágica. “I can’t wait to get going in Madrid. With the level I produced in Barcelona, winning the title, I’m coming here with a lot of confidence. We all know it’s difficult to adapt to Madrid, but we have a few days before we start. I really can’t wait”.
A year ago, the man from Murcia wrote a story that shook the circuit to its core. With a brave and confident brand of tennis, his wins over Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev allowed him to claim the trophy with a display of dominance rarely seen on tour. However, this time around, the absence of the Mallorcan and the Serb will not mean the Spaniard is about to let his guard down.
“When the best aren’t there, maybe it’s a little easier, but here all the players are good, they have a very high level”, he warned. “Any player can win the title. We don’t take confidence from the withdrawal of big players and it’s a shame not to be able to enjoy them in person. I don’t feel like the favourite, or anything of the sort, we always take it match by match”.
The sentiment around the city of Madrid is unchanging. Fans chanting Carlos’ name on the practice courts, rivers of spectators watching the champion’s every move, and a general feeling of passion for a young 19 year old destined to write the future of the sport. However, this is a reality that does nothing to overwhelm Carlos, who is grateful for the affection he receives.
“I don’t take it as pressure, actually the complete opposite”, he explained. “For me it’s motivation. It’s a pleasure to see so many people, I like playing in front of such big crowds, and even more so in Spain. It’s a really big motivation. Our intention is to have fun on court and also to entertain. When I manage to have fun on court I play my best tennis”.
“My style of game is very lively, doing different things. The smile comes from within when I’m enjoying myself. With my team, when I’m feeling frustrated, we have a little joke about something to make me smile and change my perspective on the match”.
His superlative prowess on court could lead Carlos to an extraordinary achievement in Madrid this season. Only Rafael Nadal has ever defended an ATP title on the clay of the Caja Mágica, but it is a prospect that Alcaraz seems to assume with astonishing ease.
“Every tournament we go to, we think we can win it and we’re going to try and win it. But if we don’t, it’s not a failure for me”, he explained. “Leaving a tournament thinking I have failed would have more to do with the level of my tennis or my attitude, that’s the most important thing for me. If I do well mentally and I play well, I don’t take it as a failure”.
The atmosphere in the Spanish capital is electric as it awaits his return, now a different player, one who is capable of bringing the fans to their feet with his iconic drop shots, a superhuman mobility, and a forehand whose power is draw-dropping to witness at close quarters. Every year he comes back to Madrid an athlete capable of more remarkable feats.
“My game hasn’t changed much over the last year. It’s been a time in which I’ve had some good moments and others not so good. The difference from last year’s Carlos to this year is maturity and experience”, explained the Spaniard, who is guaranteed to return to No. 1 in the world if he can protect his throne in Madrid.
Just a few metres away from the Manolo Santana Stadium, where he stole the hearts of the public one year ago, Alcaraz radiates happiness from every pore.