June 14, 2024
Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz

Dressed in an elegant black suit, Carlos Alcaraz was back at Roland Garros on Monday to have his photo taken with the Coupe des Mousquetaires before leaving for a three-day holiday to disconnect after claiming his third major title in Paris.

Before boarding a plane to forget about tennis, for 72 hours at least, the Spaniard spent almost half an hour with all the Spanish journalists who accompanied him throughout the historic tournament, speaking to them about his achievement, the ghosts of his forearm injury and the process of maturity he is currently going through.

“Yesterday, I celebrated with my family, with the people that came from Murcia, with my friends,” said the No. 2 in the PIF ATP Rankings of his Sunday night. “We went out to dinner and obviously I did everything I haven’t been doing during the tournament and ate what I hadn’t been eating. I’m normally careful with gluten, but I took my foot off the pedal and let myself go a little bit. Also, we had to celebrate with champagne, the time was right.

“Then I left early and that was it. Today I’m on cloud nine.”
The Murcia native emphasised the importance of enjoying these moments.

“After all the work, all the sacrifice to win a trophy like that, you have to enjoy it a bit. It’s something I’m learning, even though I’m still 21 and I’m still getting to know myself: what I need, what I don’t need, how to do it, how not to do it,” he explained. “I’m realising that you have to balance the days of working hard and suffering with days of rest and the freedom to do what you want, to not feel like a tennis player, just a normal guy. That helps you isolate yourself and wake up with a clear head to go out onto court and give 100 per cent.”

To get to that ‘cloud’, to enjoy the moment by celebrating with his loved ones, Alcaraz had to endure some extremely difficult months that were replete with pitfalls and mishaps.

At the start of the European clay season, when he was in Monte-Carlo preparing for his opener at the tournament, the Spaniard announced his withdrawal from the third ATP Masters 1000 event of the season as the result of a problem with his right forearm, which meant he was unable to defend his title in Barcelona, too. Despite playing in Madrid, where he was also the defending champion, he bowed out to Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals and the pain came back, forcing him to miss Rome and putting his preparations for Roland Garros in jeopardy.

“I’m someone who’s more likely to cry from frustration than from happiness,” admitted the 21-year-old. “I don’t cry much, but I did with the injury a couple of times when I had to miss certain tournaments I was really excited about.

“Mentally it was distressing. You use your right arm for everything. I use a lot of speed and power in every shot and my forearm really suffers. I was worried, thinking that I might not recover 100 per cent. In Madrid I played four matches and it bothered me in the fourth. I couldn’t go to Rome. We did tests and everything necessary to arrive here in the best shape, but my head kept asking questions.”

Carlos Alcaraz
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour

After pulling out of Rome, he didn’t pick up a racquet for a few days. Alcaraz then embarked on a training plan with his team to try and get ready for the first day of Roland Garros. Given Sunday’s result, it is fair to say the plan worked.

“I was a little uncertain about how my arm would react at a Grand Slam, the best of five sets,” he said. “It was tough, but as the rounds went by I was feeling good, no pain, even though I was cautious.

“The day of the semi-finals was when I decided to throw caution to the wind when hitting my forehand. I said, ‘If I hurt myself, if it’s painful, then let it be here.’ It wasn’t the time to be scared and I had to trust all the work we’d done and forget about that.”

It was all that work, carried out before and during the Roland Garros fortnight, that allowed the player from Murcia to achieve another dream and experience something special and inimitable.

“I also watch the videos of when I was little and I was in Paris under the Eiffel Tower, following Roland Garros,” revealed Alcaraz. “Lifting this cup some time afterwards… they’re amazing moments. I’m living a dream. Roland Garros is very special for me because it was the tournament I followed when I was little. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive so that I could sit in front of the TV and watch all the matches, and now…”
Becoming the youngest player to win three majors on the three surfaces (hard, grass and clay) has led to more comparisons with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the three players who tore up the record books for almost two decades.

“I’ve seen videos, but with a few highlights I can’t compare myself to what they were like at my age,” reasoned Alcaraz. “In the end, as I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter what I’ve achieved at this age if I now stand still. I want to continue my career, I want to keep growing and get to where Djokovic, Rafa and Federer are… the greats, the geniuses, they kept improving until they were 37 or 38.

“Staying at the very top for 16 or 17 years, fighting for big titles season after season, dealing with the pressure, with injuries, with everything, that’s extraordinary and very few can do it… So I think it’s mental strength and my head that will allow me to belong to that conversation in the future.”

Mental strength without a doubt, is one of Alcaraz’s greatest victories at this Roland Garros. While in 2023 he bowed out in the semis after losing to Djokovic, suffering from cramps mid-match due to the pressure, this year he has learned to handle that pressure, as evidenced by his wins over Jannik Sinner and Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals and final, seeing off both opponents in five sets.

“Last year I clearly failed that exam, but this time we’d done our homework,” declared the Spaniard. “This year I managed to do much better. I think I passed the exam, but not with flying colours. It’s something I have to keep improving and as the years go by, I’ll feel even better.”

After returning from his mini-break, which starts this afternoon, Alcaraz will start to practise on grass for Queen’s Club and Wimbledon (he is the defending champion at both) and then he will be back on the clay with his sights set on the Olympic Games in Paris, where as well as playing in the singles, he will form a duo with Nadal in the doubles. The question, then, is obvious: would he prefer to successfully defend his Wimbledon title or claim an Olympic gold in Paris?

“The Olympic Games are every four years and it’s a special tournament where you’re not only playing for yourself, but for a country, representing every Spaniard,” came Alcaraz’s reply. “I think this year I’d choose Olympic gold.”

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