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Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina were just some of the players spotted on Court 1 at the 2019 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell to watch Carlos Alcaraz play his first qualifying match at an ATP Tour event. At the time, David Ferrer already knew the 15-year-old boy, even before he had started working under his friend Juan Carlos Ferrero.
The meeting between Ferrer and Alcaraz came at the Javea Tennis Club, when the Murcia native was 14. Albert Molina, the young talent’s agent and friend of the former World No. 3 arranged the encounter.
—”Hey, Ferru, tomorrow a kid’s coming from Murcia.”
—”Yup, let me know what you think.”
Not only did they enjoy some rallies on the hard court of the Alicante club, they also played a tie-break. “If he didn’t beat me, he was very close,” recalled Ferrer in a conversation for the ATP Tour Insider newsletter. “It was surprising to see his ball speed from him, but above all that I could n’t hurt him with my flat ball. He used his hands very well and I could see that he was very fast. For that age he had very good footwork and it was very difficult to hit a winner against him.”
This was Alcaraz’s introduction to a player who had spent practically the entirety of the previous decade in the Top 10. On top of his innate ability with a racquet in his hand, Ferrer also sensed a special talent in a boy who was shy as well as daring. He was a fearless player, but also very respectful.
“I’m not saying it to look clever, but right then I saw something special in him, something different to any other player,” said the 27-time tour-level winner. “I’ve trained with a lot of young boys. But when a 14-year-old copes with your tempo like that and you can see his desire for him to beat you in a tie-break – while always being respectful – it’s because he has something special.
In a way, Rafael Nadal’s name inevitably comes up in the conversation, although Ferrer is reluctant to draw parallels. “I see similar things in terms of the premature capacity to learn and the ambition,” he said of two players who managed to win ATP Masters 1000s at 18.
“That maturity in someone so young is not normal,” he continued. “Nor is the way he handles pressure, playing in big stadiums, playing a Masters 1000 and not shying away from it. Normally there would be some stage fright, but neither he nor Rafa has had that. They’re different.”
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After heaping praise on the recent Miami champion, Ferrer was keen to make a clarification. “But I don’t like comparing them, because what Rafa has done is huge. He’s a legend of tennis, the best player in history,” Ferrer said. “Comparing them would be a big burden for Carlos. He will be a player who has a chance to be the No. 1 in the world. He will have a lot of chances to win Grand Slams, but he has his whole career ahead of him.”
What we do know is that there is new hope on the horizon for Spanish tennis. After the retirement of players like Ferrer, there was a need for players to break through and aspire for the ATP Tour elite and the biggest titles.
“He’s not replacing me, because Carlos Alcaraz will be better than David Ferrer,” the current director of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell was quick to point out. This year Ferrer welcomed his young countryman to his tournament as the fifth seed and World No. 11. Alcaraz won the title.
“Nobody can overshadow Rafa because of everything he has been and continues to be, because he’s the No. 1 in the Race [ATP Race to Turin]. The good thing is that we can enjoy both of them. It’s not that one is arriving when the other is leaving, one is the No. 1 and the other is the No. 2 in the Race.”
Spanish tennis has opened the door to another great champion of the future, who already has an astonishing present.