Carlos Alcaraz Has Florida Smitten As He Defends His Miami Open Defence

They love a Hispanic hero in this part of south Florida, and in Carlos Alcaraz they appear to have found another one.

Late Friday afternoon in the early stages of the Miami Open and the crowd was notably swollen for the first appearance of the 19 year-old US Open champion. His powerful drives and astonishing speed around the baseline were met with gasps inside the converted Dolphins NFL stadium.

With an almost embarrassing ease Alcaraz, defending the title he won twelve months ago as an 18 year-old, brushed aside seasoned Argentinian player Facundo Bagnis for the loss of two games in barely one hour.

Small wonder that even the more restrained observers are convinced that a serious disrupter to the era of Djokovic and Nadal has finally arrived.

Some time in the coming months Alcaraz will rub up against the great duo again and we will find out more. Due to a combination of injury absences and Djokovic’s vaccine ban from the US they have yet to feature in the same tournament in 2023, but that is likely to come round at the Monte Carlo Open in three weeks’ time.

Carlos Alcaraz waves to the crowd after defeating Facundo Bagnis in the Miami Open on Friday

Already Alcaraz has beaten them in successive rounds in the same tournament, last Spring in Madrid.

Eurosport analyst and former Swedish great Mats Wilander, not usually for one hyperbole, was moved to pronounce: ‘There’s a big chance that Alcaraz will be the one that’s going to decide the future history of our game.’

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He believes that the young Spaniard, one of four brothers from the southern city of Murcia, will have a say in how many Grand Slam titles the great Djokovic and Nadal finally end up with.

‘When it comes to different match-ups, when Alcaraz is in charge of the rally he has so many more options than any tennis player that I’ve ever seen except Roger Federer,’ added Wilander.

The young Spaniard is a modest type who smiles a lot and very naturally. He speaks increasingly good English, mirroring his rise towards international superstardom, but others may currently be more articulate in outlining what makes him special.

Andy Murray is undoubtedly pleased that he has hung around long enough to be able to boast a career win over the player who could dominate the generation who will take the game on. The Scot brings a mixture of high praise and realism to his analysis of the player he beat at Indian Wells eighteen months ago.

Former Swedish great Mats Wilander said Alcaraz could 'decide the future history' of tennis

Former Swedish great Mats Wilander said Alcaraz could ‘decide the future history’ of tennis

‘He has an excellent game that I think will translate well onto all surfaces,’ observes Murray.

‘He’s not the biggest guy, but he can serve big. He’s an unbelievable mover, great athlete. Has a lot of variety in his game, he takes the ball on a lot.

new balance

’That’s something you hope that he keeps. I know from experience that it’s a bit easier playing that way when you’re sort of 18, 19, and there’s not any scar tissue there. I hope that he maintains that style of play because it’s exciting to watch.

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‘So far in his young career he’s doing better than most of the guys that have come up in the last eight to ten years. I know a lot of people are sort of expecting everyone to win 20-plus Grand Slams now, like that’s sort of normal. I wouldn’t predict that for anyone. But I would imagine he would be right at the top of the game for as long as he wants to play.’

Alcaraz jokes with the crowd during a practice session ahead of his last 32 clash on Sunday

Alcaraz jokes with the crowd during a practice session ahead of his last 32 clash on Sunday

If you were mapping out what lies ahead then Italian Jannik Sinner, the 21 year-old world number eleven and a majestic ball striker, might emerge as the biggest single challenger in the long term.

The two of them met in Wimbledon’s fourth round last summer, giving the Centre Court a glimpse of the future, with the Spaniard winning in four sets.

On Friday Sinner, a former junior ski champion, described what it is like to play him: ‘ He knows how to play shot to play in every single moment,’ said the Italian. 

‘That’s the toughest thing, he can play very strong but he can change up every shot and when you are playing against him he moves so well you have to push yourself to go to the net because across the baseline he is so fast. 

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‘You think you hit a great shot down the line and he gets there.’

The Spaniard is looking to defend his Miami Open crown, having won the tournament last year

The Spaniard is looking to defend his Miami Open crown, having won the tournament last year

This sort of capability has taken Alcaraz to world number one, although a factor in that has unquestionably been the enforced absences of Djokovic, whose ban from entering the US will expire with a legislation change coming in next month.

An equally telling stat is that he became the fastest player to register 100 main tour wins since a young John McEnroe.

One potential cloud is that there may be a tendency towards injury, as can affect those with incredible twitch fibres, and he missed the Australian Open earlier this year. 

In the immediate future he will, this coming week, attempt to complete the ‘Sunshine Double’ of taking the titles at Indian Wells and Miami, and all before he turns 20 in May.

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