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Carlos Alcaraz is not merely a potential star—he is a supernova
The 18-year-old Spaniard continued to light up the skies, defeating defending champion Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) to become the second-youngest finalist in Miami Open history.
Published Apr 02, 2022
INTERVIEW: Carlos Alcaraz after his 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) semifinal win over Hubert Hurkacz
As the world has seen over the past 30 days, Carlos Alcaraz is not merely a potential star. He is a supernova. The 18-year-old Spaniard continued to light up the skies tonight. In the semis of the Miami Open, Alcaraz beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2). The win made Alcaraz the second-youngest finalist in this event’s history, a mark exceeded only by none other than Rafael Nadal.
“It's great to be able to play my first Masters 1000 final here in Miami,” said Alcaraz. “I love playing here in Miami. Amazing crowd, amazing atmosphere, amazing everything. So it's great to play a final.”
Players like Hurkacz, a diligent 25-year-old who has made his way into the top ten, work hard, aggregate weapons, deploy them efficiently and build effective, sustainable careers. Raised from the ground, this kind of skilled, profoundly human craftsman engenders respect and even a certain kind of underground love.
Tennis has a long history of superb players such as Hurkacz. Todd Martin, Tim Mayotte, and Brian Gottfried are a few names that come to mind. But while professionals of this high-grade caliber have many moments of excellence, teenagers such as Alcaraz possess something far more mysterious and captivating: magic. Alcaraz doesn’t just trigger a kindly nod or a discreet brand of affection. He sets galleries on fire – the kind of blaze sports fans crave, perhaps these days more than ever.
Several years ago, I addressed the topic of teen prodigies with my Tennis Channel colleague, Jim Courier. Jim, after all, had seen teenaged brilliance first-hand, courtesy of his three greatest rivals – Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang. As was always the case, tennis had become increasingly physical, the depth of competition greater. But more pointedly, since Courier’s glory years of the ‘90s, increases in prize money had made it possible for far more players to continue life on the tour, afford personal training teams and extend the length of their careers. Amid these circumstances, was there room for teenagers to break through? My rational thinking said this was tough to imagine.
Courier saw it another way. If a player has genius, he said, then genius will surface no matter what the age. Dare you summon reason in the face of magic? So bedazzling is the teen prodigy that even those he vanquishes regard him with awe. Speaking about Alcaraz, Hurkacz said, “definitely he's playing insane for his age. It's really incredible how he plays, how he competes. No, definitely it's something special the way he plays at this age. Really, he has amazing career in front of him. It's crazy how good he plays.”
It’s also propitious that Alcaraz’s ascent has come at a time when matters of succession pervade men’s tennis. Who knows when Roger Federer will next compete? Having played but one tournament this year, Novak Djokovic appears primed to at last kick his 2022 into higher gear. Nadal’s cracked rib – an injury incurred while just squeaking past Alcaraz last month in the semis of Indian Wells – raises doubts about his clay court season and the balance of his year. And while Daniil Medvedev is an excellent player who by now has generated superb results, it remains uncertain how he will transition into the role of a leading man.
Alcaraz wants nothing more than to headline the marquee. Per usual, this evening Alcaraz showed his star power with a rare synthesis of tenacity and artistry. Serving in the first set at 3-4, 30-40, Alcaraz feathered a drop shot winner, cracked a 131 mph ace down the T, then closed out the game with an untouchable crosscourt forehand.
Credit Hurkacz for high-quality execution. Big serves and great volleys are his cornerstone shots. With Alcaraz serving at 2-3 in the first set tiebreaker, the 6’ 5” Hurkacz lunged and carved a sublime crosscourt forehand volley, a 21st century version of Stefan Edberg or Patrick Rafter. But then, serving at 5-3, Hurkacz overcooked two straight forehands, the first a flat drive past the baseline, the second skipping off the net and also long. At 5-all, Alcaraz scored with a drop shot winner, then cashed in the set with a dipping crosscourt backhand return that elicited a netted volley.
The alpha and the omega of the Alcaraz arsenal is breadth. “Well, in every match I trying to put my game,” he said, “I mean, as you said, hitting big forehands, hitting big shots, dropshots, trying to go to the net, trying to be aggressive all the time.”
It is an extremely high level of disruptive tennis. When Alcaraz lines up in the ad court to hit what’s obviously going to be a kick serve, the return strategy is uncertain. Will Alcaraz stay back and crack a groundstroke? Or will he serve and volley and follow it up with his own homage to Edberg in the form of a deftly angled forehand volley? Might Alcaraz at 18 already be one of contemporary tennis’ best serve-and-volleyers? Then there’s the Alcaraz drop shot, made that much more effective by the threat of depth and power from his ground game. Which do you guard against? This is the way Alcaraz puts his opponents on edge; not just with raw power or footspeed, but also by sprinkling seeds of doubt all over the court. To see such tactical acuity so well-conceived and executed from any player is remarkable. To see it in an 18-year-old is staggering.
And so it came to pass that Hurkacz, serving at 1-1 in the second set tiebreaker, sprayed a forehand wide. From there, Alcaraz was thoroughly in control, winning five of the next six points.
Most of all, a teen sensation gives us hope for what the world can be. “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments,” said Chief Justice Earl Warren. “The front page records nothing but man’s failures.” Given all our planet has experienced so far this decade – and the ongoing dread of what might happen next -- that makes Alcaraz’s prowess and sheer joy for competition that much more meaningful.