07:55 PM GMT May 23, 2021
It was just two years ago that Carlos Alcaraz announced his arrival in grand fashion. Teenagers don't often seize the spotlight with fearless aggression and the mental prowess of a veteran, but that is exactly what the Spaniard has become known for.
At the ripe age of 15 in April 2019, Alcaraz defeated Jannik Sinner in his first main draw appearance on the ATP Challenger Tour. From that day, it quickly became a matter of when, not if, he would reach the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. That moment has arrived for the native of Murcia, Spain.
Alcaraz celebrates his debut among the 100 best players in the world on Monday following his fourth Challenger title in Oeiras, Portugal. His surge to a career-high No. 94 — a move of 397 spots since the start of 2020 — has made him the youngest member of the club.
"Being in the Top 100 is something very special for me," Alcaraz told ATPTour.com. "It is a reflection of all the hard work that I am doing with my team and the dedication that I am putting on and off the court. To be Top 100 was one of my dreams since I was I very little, and to be able to get there is something amazing. I can't explain it with words. It is an incredible feeling. It gives me great motivation to continue training and give all I have to continue improving."
It is a historic Top 100 breakthrough for the 18-year-old, who becomes the second-youngest Spaniard to enter the club. Only a 16-year-old Rafael Nadal was younger when he made his debut in 2003. In addition, Alcaraz is the youngest player to make the breakthrough since Croatian Borna Coric in 2014.
Youngest Players to Debut in Top 100 (since 2000)
||16 years, 10 months
||21 April 2003
||17 years, 3 months
||29 September 2003
||17 years, 11 months
||27 October 2014
|Juan Martin del Potro
||18 years, 0 months, 16 days
||9 October 2006
||18 years, 0 months, 19 days
||24 May 2021
All ascents are created differently, but for those striving to reach the pinnacle of the ATP Tour, cracking the Top 100 is a seminal moment. It is one that confirms the belief that you belong on the biggest stages in pro tennis.
Belief. That is one thing Alcaraz already owns in abundance. Where the Spaniard has struck fear in the eyes of opponents with bold shotmaking and blazing agility, it's his composure between the lines and humility off the court that continues to endear him to fans.
Where does that poise come from? How does an 18-year-old develop such a mature approach to the game? Watching countryman and idol Nadal exhibit those same traits throughout his career and absorbing the values instilled by coach Juan Carlos Ferrero are expected. But Alcaraz revealed a more surprising source of inspiration: 'Rocky'.
"When I watch the Rocky movies, it really motivates me," Alcaraz said. "He never surrenders. He always believes that he will win. Boxing is a lot like tennis. You have two people preparing for a battle and then trying to look for solutions during the fight. He makes one move, then you make another, and you have to adapt. It's one of the movies that I enjoy watching a lot and it has helped me in my career."
Born in 2003 in the village of El Parmar, located just 30 minutes from Spain's east coast, Alcaraz was four when he first picked up a racquet with his father. Carlos Sr. is the director of tennis at the Real Sociedad Club de Campo Murcia. The game came naturally to his son, who started taking classes at the club and hitting the ball for fun with his brothers Álvaro, Sergio and Jaime. It soon grew into something greater than he could imagine.
Alcaraz first crashed onto the scene one year ago with a head-turning ATP Tour debut at the Rio Open presented by Claro. He would stun World No. 41 Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a final-set tie-break after three hours and 37 minutes. When the COVID-19 shutdown happened just a few weeks later, it halted all the momentum and confidence he built from his run in Rio. But it was that four-month hiatus that he credits for what would be a history-making return to competition.
"I really took advantage of that time to improve physically," Alcaraz added. "Thankfully we have a full gym at the [Equelite Ferrero] academy and I worked hard to get better. Also, there were some things in my game that I needed to work on and it was good that we had the time to do that."
Photo: Sara Falcao
Alcaraz would make the ATP Challenger Tour his personal playground upon the tour's resumption. He captured his maiden title in Trieste, Italy, as a qualifier and further cemented his Challenger legacy with second and third crowns two months later. His victories on home soil in Barcelona and Alicante put him in an exclusive club as one of just five players to win three titles before their 18th birthday. His 83.3 winning percentage (20-4 record) would lead the Challenger circuit by year's end.
Alcaraz has already proceeded to launch a seamless transition to the ATP Tour in 2021. A first tour-level semi-final on home soil in Marbella came just one month ago and was soon followed by a successful ATP Masters 1000 debut in Madrid, where he would battle Nadal in the second round.
"Being No. 110 or No. 94, it doesn't change much in our approach," said Ferrero, former World No. 1 and Alcaraz's longtime coach. "The message is to try to give 100 per cent every week, prepare well, train well and take care of what you can control. It's a lot. But little by little we will try to continue climbing these steps.
"Our plans gave us the opportunity to be at this level. He has been burning through each stage, but we are also realistic and we are happy and satisfied with the level he is giving on the court. Both he and I are very ambitious and we always want more. We are going to try to grow even more and see how far we can climb at the end of the year."
Alcaraz has little time to celebrate this milestone. The Spaniard is already at Roland Garros, ready to embark on his quest for a first main draw appearance on the Parisian terre battue. He will open qualifying against Slovakia's Lukas Lacko on Tuesday.