There was an amusing exchange after Carlos Alcaraz beat Novak Djokovic in a thrilling Madrid Open semi-final when the red-hot 19-year-old was asked who the best player in the world is.
“Well, Djokovic, because he’s No. 1,” was Alcaraz’s answer.
Pressed again on who is the best player in the world at this moment, Alcaraz said: “I’m not going to tell you that. The one that I know, I’m not going to tell you. I was able to beat No. 1, but still I’m ranked No. 9. I still have eight players in front of me to be No. 1.”
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Eight is now down to five after Alcaraz won his second Masters title in Madrid. And any debate over his current standing in the men’s game seems less challenging to answer.
“Right now you are the best player in the world,” said Zverev after getting outplayed by Alcaraz in the Madrid Open final.
Since losing his opener in Monte Carlo, Alcaraz, 19, has won 10 matches in a row to secure titles in Barcelona and Madrid. Even though he beat both Nadal and Djokovic in Madrid, his demolition of Zverev was arguably Alcaraz’s most impressive performance. Zverev, who blasted the ATP afterwards for “disgraceful” scheduling that left him short of sleep, has won Madrid twice, including last year, and had never lost on the main court. He was completely outplayed by Alcaraz in a one-sided 62-minute final.
The stats behind Alcaraz’s stunning season are incredible:
  • Youngest player to beat both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
  • First player to beat Nadal and Djokovic in same clay event
  • Youngest top-10 player since Nadal in 2005
  • Youngest top-20 player since Andrei Medvedev in 1993
  • Second-youngest player to win two Masters titles (Nadal, 18, in 2005)
  • Youngest player to win five titles since Nadal in 2004-05
  • Youngest player since 1990 to beat three top-five players at same event
  • A 5-0 record in finals

Has Alcaraz elevated himself into favourite for the French Open?

There's little to count against him, except he hasn't yet done it at a Grand Slam. He’s won some long matches on the ATP Tour, including the two longest this year, but two-week majors with potential five-set battles against Nadal and Djokovic are another challenge. Alcaraz has only played in the main draw at five Grand Slams and has only made it past the third round once. Few players have won a major at the sixth attempt, although Nadal did so at the French Open in 2005.
What’s so impressive about Alcaraz is that his game already seems to have it all. When he started making waves last year his raw power and attacking approach stood out. Add to that arguably the best drop shot on tour, quick movement around the court, a strong net game, and a smart mind, and you have a seriously good player. The power is there still – against Nadal and Djokovic he hit a combined 88 winners compared to 34 from his opponents – but Alcaraz is also thinking more about how to win points. He caused Djokovic big problems with his kick serve and was hugely successful when serve and volleying in Madrid, winning 17 of 18 points. He also has the hunger to continue to get better.

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“I think that I have to improve everything still. I have always said that you can improve everything. You never reach a limit,” he said after winning in Madrid.
“Look at Rafa, Djokovic, [Roger] Federer, all of them improve and they have things to improve. That's why they are so good, and that's why they are so much [of the] time up there, because they don't stop. They keep on working and improving.
“That's what I want to do. I want to keep on progressing. I have really good shots. I don't say that I don't have them, but I know that I can improve them and they can be even better.”
Just as players have had to work out ways to try and beat Nadal and Djokovic in the past, now the two greats will have to study how they can conquer Alcaraz. Neither will be sitting still after Madrid.
Nadal and Djokovic are set to play this week in Rome, where either one or both of them have reached the final every year since 2005, while Alcaraz will be taking a week off as he prepares for the French Open. Nadal will take encouragement from the fact he pushed Alcaraz close in Madrid, even though he is working his way back from a rib injury and the quicker conditions do not suit his game as much as in Rome and Paris. Djokovic looks to be building momentum and produced his best performances of the season before going down to Alcaraz in three sets. Had he converted more than just one of six break-point chances against the 19-year-old then the final result might have been different.
Whether Alcaraz is the favourite for the French Open, his stunning rise represents a serious threat to Djokovic and Nadal as they try to sweep up more Grand Slam titles. Nadal said it’s “obvious” there is now a changing of the guard after losing to his fellow Spaniard, and Alcaraz might soon move above Daniil Medvedev, Zverev and Tsitsipas as the biggest rival to Djokovic and Nadal at majors. It will be fascinating to see whether world No. 2 Medvedev, who is returning from injury next week in Geneva, Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 against Alcaraz, and Zverev, who not that long ago was being talked about as a member of the new 'Big Three', can counter.
All three have question marks ahead of the French Open, while Alcaraz is bursting with confidence.
“I think I’m ready to win a Grand Slam,” said Alcaraz after winning Madrid. “I think I’m ready to go for it. It’s a goal for me this year, to try to get my first Grand Slam. I’m going to work for it, let’s see what’s going to happen at Roland-Garros.”
Last year Alcaraz became the youngest player since Djokovic in 2005 to win a match at the French Open, and the youngest player to reach the third round since 1992. If he wins in Paris this year he would be the first male teenager to lift a Grand Slam title since Nadal won the French Open in 2005.
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