Winning a Grand Slam at 19 years of age and becoming the No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings inevitably brings with it the impression that Carlos Alcaraz is a prodigal talent, a player with a God-given gift for tennis. However, the Spaniard is quick to distance himself from labels of such magnitude.
“I’m not special, and nobody said I was going to be the best,” Alcaraz said. “I’ve worked for it.”
In an interview from New York, the youngest World No. 1 in the history of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings reveals the person hiding behind the premature success of his fledgling professional career.
You’ve said many times that your dream was to be the No. 1. Is there anything left that excites you?
Playing against Federer would excite me and beating a ‘Big Three’ player in a Grand Slam. I’ve always said that in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.
In an interview a few years ago you denied being special. Now you are breaking all the records for precocity. Do you stand by that statement or are you starting to think you do have something special?
My answer is the same. Nobody gifts you anything, I believe. You don’t just click your fingers and have the world at your feet. You have to work at things. I think what I have achieved, winning a Grand Slam and being No. 1 in the world, is because of the work I’ve been doing with my team for a very long time.
It hasn’t been a bed of roses, I’ve had to suffer and go through bad times to get here. I’m not special, and nobody said I was going to be the best, I’ve worked for it.
You always talk about your team, family, but what percentage of this success is related to your work on the mental side?
I’ve been working with a psychologist for two or three seasons, with Isabel Balaguer. She’s a great professional, one of the main reasons I am able to be No. 1 in the world today. I’ve improved so much thanks to her.
Having a mental coach is important as tennis is demanding week after week and during a whole year you have to be fresh mentally, you have to cope with the pressure, with everyone watching you and it’s important to be able to handle that. Without a psychologist, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible because nothing is, but it would be far more difficult.
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What tools has she given you?
We talk, she gives me advice in certain situations: ‘You have to do this, you have to do that’. Things that help on court, she gives me a lot of tools.
Also to deal with journalists or people?
No, not that aspect. I am myself. She doesn’t give me tools for that. It’s more work on court, how to handle things. Also accepting that people recognise you, advice on how to cope with those situations.
Have you incorporated new routines?
I’ve reinforced what I had, always improving, incorporating them in a way that’s more natural for me.
What things do you always do?
Before matches I don’t have a specific routine, I do my warm up, where I always do the same, I try to always go to the same place with my team. If I feel like listening to music, I do, otherwise I don’t. In the match, I have some superstitions with towels, taking four balls, bouncing them five times, the bottles always neatly arranged, always drinking first from one, a bite of my energy bar always before the banana… [laughs].
What is a day in your life like outside of tennis?
Honestly, I’m a very basic person and that’s what I enjoy the most, being with five or six friends sitting on a bench, in a car or a house, talking peacefully, laughing, telling anecdotes, it makes me happy.
Everyone describes you as a player with no fear on court. What is Carlos Alcaraz afraid of?
Honestly, I’m scared of failure. That’s probably one of my fears. Letting a lot of people down.
Failure in what sense?
Not being up to their expectations. Although I’ve won a Grand Slam or now I’m No. 1 in the world, probably there will be tournaments in which there are expectations and I can’t meet them. Above all, letting down the people around me. In terms of everyone else, there are a lot of people who think and have opinions, but I’m talking about those that are close to me. That’s the thing I’m most scared of.
And off the court?
I’d say the dark. I’m not a fan of horror films either. I’m scared of lots of things.
Nadal has the record with 22 Grand Slams. You’ve already got your first…
I’ll always be proud when Rafa wins Grand Slams and obviously if I lose at a Grand Slam, I’ll always be supporting a Spaniard. I’ve won one, I don’t feel closer, I’ve got 21 to go. For now, I’m going to think about trying to get the second, which very few people have managed, that’s my goal.