Express News Service
CHENNAI: There’re nine days to go for the beginning of this French Open. That means one thing. The next Slam for Rafael Nadal could be around the corner. If he wins in Paris this year, it would be his 22nd overall and 14th in the French capital. It’s been a far more muted build-up this year as the Spaniard suffered an injury. He missed some two months of action and only returned to action at the Madrid Masters where he lost in the quarterfinals.
Even if you never bet against Nadal on the Parisian clay, he isn’t the one generating the hype. That belongs to the kid who beat Nadal in that quarterfinals in Madrid, Carlos Alcaraz. The 19-year-old has been on a bull-run of late, winning three of the last four events. He’s now World No 6 (No 32 at the beginning of the year). His age-group success had already marked him for greater things but back-to-back takedowns of Nadal and Novak Djokovic on consecutive days in Madrid heightened the noise. Coming into 2022, he was already ‘the next Nadal’ but the hype factory has gone through the roof in recent days (it probably doesn’t help that Alcaraz idolised Nadal so there is an automatic reference point).
That being the case, it was only natural that Nadal, who’s in Rome this week, was asked about Alcaraz. In response, Nadal asked the journalists to stop viewing the teen as anybody but himself. “The only thing that we can do is enjoy the career of an amazing player like Carlos,” he said. “Will be better, even if it’s interesting, you stop comparing him to me.
“If he’s able to win 25 Slams, it’s going to be amazing for him and for our country, and I will be happy for him. But let him enjoy his personal career. “Don’t put pressure, extra pressure, on him. Don’t ask me every time… “Different moments, different careers, different ways to approach things because the times are changing. But let’s enjoy him. That’s it.”
For somebody who was playing qualifying events to qualify for the main draw of Majors till last year’s French Open, his hot streak began at the US swing a few months later. A semifinal (Winston-Salem) and quarterfinal (US Open) were followed by a win at the Next Gen ATP finals in Milan.
At a time when the sport’s Next Gen has been struggling to be counted for a variety of reasons, the hype is understandable, perhaps even justified. That will reach fever pitch if and when Alcaraz is alive in the second week of the Slam.
By the way, the last man to win a Slam as a teen? Nadal.