If you look up “bursting onto the scene” in the dictionary, it might now come up with a picture of Carlos Alcaraz’s face.
Alcaraz beat defending champion Alexander Zverev 6-3 6-1 in the Madrid Open final, completing an emphatic tournament having already beaten Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in previous rounds.
It is the young Spaniard’s fourth title of the year – including victory at the Miami Open in April – and he’s set to rise to a career-high No. 6 in the world rankings.
Having won the clay court tournament just a few weeks away from the second grand slam of the year – the French Open at Roland Garros – Alcaraz’s name is amongst the favorites to challenge for the title.
And speaking to CNN Sport after “the best week of my life” playing “unbelievable tennis,” Alcaraz isn’t ruling out lifting his debut grand slam in a few weeks’ time.
“I would say I’m one of the favorite players to win Roland Garros with the stats and everything, but I know it’s going to be really, really difficult to win Roland Garros,” Alcaraz told CNN’s Don Riddell.
“There are a lot of great players – Rafa, Djokovic – the best players in the world are going to play there. But I think I’m ready to do good results at Roland Garros and I’m ready to win Roland Garros.”
Last year, Alcaraz was ranked 120th in the world and lost to Nadal in the second round of the Madrid Open.
But fast-forward 12 months and he’s beaten two of the greatest players tennis has ever seen as he establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with.
In beating Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev, Alcaraz became the first player since David Nalbandian in 2007 to defeat three top-four players at a single Masters 1000 event.
Given his rapid rise and seemingly unflappable nature, it seems nerves aren’t an issue for Alcaraz. However, he says that’s not the case.
“I have nerves, but I’m trying to manage the nerves better than the other one and trying so the opponent doesn’t see that I’m nervous,” he explains. “But trust me, I have nerves, a lot of nerves.”
Backed by a home crowd on Sunday in the final, Alcaraz was dominating against Zverev, flying around the court as he belied his age and experience on a huge stage.
As someone who used to watch the tournament as a kid, the Madrid Open held even greater significance for Alcaraz.
And his achievements over the last few months have not yet settled in for the young star.
“I mean, everything came so fast, two Masters 1000 titles – one on hard court, one of clay court,” he said.
“So if at the beginning of the season, someone told me that I’m going to achieve these tournaments – Barcelona as well – I didn’t believe it, I didn’t believe him. For me, I don’t know what to say about an unbelievable month for me.”
And the pressure of being the biggest name in tennis at the moment isn’t daunting Alcaraz.
“It’s good that everyone’s talking about you and is going to watch your match. For me, it’s pretty good. But it gives me a lot of power to play in the best stadiums against the best players in the world. So for me, it’s quite cool.”
‘An absolute disgrace’
Although he was defeated in the final, world No. 3 Zverev was full of praise for Alcaraz.
The German called the Spaniard the “best player in the world” after showering him in champagne during the trophy ceremony.
However, Zverev criticized the ATP Tour for its scheduling of late-night matches during the Madrid Open, saying that while he didn’t “want to take anything away” from Alacaraz, he would have performed better had players been given more time to rest.
“The ATP’s job was an absolute disgrace this week,” Zverev said. “To play a final against Carlos Alcaraz, who for me is the best player in the world right now, in a Masters 1000 event … it is difficult. I had no coordination today. I had no coordination on my serve, I had no coordination on my groundstrokes. I missed two overheads that were super easy because I see the ball and everything is moving in my eyes.
“I was a little bit late all of the time. My first step was not so quick. If you are playing the best players in the world, you have to be at your top. Otherwise, you will have no chance. Today, I had no chance.”
He continued: “I think all of us have stayed up late, all of us maybe partied sometimes, but if you are staying up until 4 a.m., the next day you are dead. I played the next day. If you’re doing it again, the next day until 5 a.m., you will have a difficult time to be even awake.
“I don’t want to take anything away (from Carlos),” Zverev said. “I feel sad for the final that we played because this could have been a very good match. This could have been a great match.
“It takes away the sport of tennis. Everybody wanted to see a great fight. Everybody wanted to see some high-level tennis. But I’m also human. I’m not a robot. I can’t. I simply I cannot be on my level when this is happening every single night.”