Carlos Alcaraz celebrated his 18th birthday with a tennis masterclass from the player he’s being touted to take over from: Rafael Nadal. That he had lost 1-6, 2-6 didn’t matter; the Spanish teenager was just happy to share court space with his idol.
“I’m very happy to spend my birthday learning from the best,” Alcaraz said after going down in the second round of Madrid Open.
“This match showed me how to manage the tough moments and know how to play against these kind of players. If I could play more matches like this, I would grow up faster as player,”
Fans at Manolo Santana Stadium sang ‘happy birthday’ as Alcaraz stepped onto the court against his childhood idol.
"No te la comas toda" 🎂😂
— #MMOPEN (@MutuaMadridOpen) May 5, 2021
But even in his country’s biggest tennis court and under the watchful eye of Spanish sports legends like Iker Casillas and Raul, Alcaraz showed no sign of nerves as he came out swinging.
“He has a lot of potential. He’s young and [a] good guy,” Nadal said. “He already has a great level of tennis today, but I really believe that he’s going to be a fantastic player in the near future.
“I wish him all the very best. [As a] Spanish player and Spanish [tennis] fan, I really believe that we need somebody like him, and it’s great to have him here.”
Alcaraz had claimed his maiden ATP Masters 1000 victory in the first round of the Madrid Open.
In the process, the then-17-year-old became the youngest match winner in tournament history – breaking the record set by 18-year-old Nadal in 2004.
The generational second-round clash was more than just a showcase of the present and future of Spanish tennis. Both players are coached by Spanish greats and former World No. 1s, with Juan Carlos Ferrero in Alcaraz’s box and Carlos Moya in Nadal’s.
The top seed advanced to the third round, where he will face qualifier Alexei Popyrin next.
After the match, tournament director Feliciano Lopez presented Alcaraz with a cake and Nadal joined in the celebration. As the teenager walked away with the cake, Nadal quipped, “Just don’t eat the whole cake.”