Carlos Alcaraz is already remarkable but has plenty of improvement still to come | Tumaini Carayol

Carlos Alcaraz is already remarkable but has plenty of improvement still to come | Tumaini Carayol

On the eve of his third grand slam final, a day after he had cramped, flailed and nearly found himself out of the French Open at the semi‑final stage, Carlos Alcaraz and his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, were reflecting on the sheer difficulty of winning a single grand slam title, something the greatest players have achieved so many times.

“[Juan Carlos] told me: ‘You’re going to fight for your third grand slam title, with everything you have been through you know the difficult part of winning a grand slam. [Novak] Djokovic has 24 … it is unbelievable,’” Alcaraz said.

As Alcaraz has consolidated his triumphs at such a remarkable pace, he has made much of his success look inevitable. He is now a three-time grand slam title winner at 21, having conquered the three main surfaces at a faster rate than any other man.

Alcaraz’s record when under pressure is also astounding. He is 3-0 in major finals, 5-1 in Masters 1000 finals, and 11-1 in five-setters. So many talented young players have struggled to perform after being subjected to so much hype and pressure, yet he continues to manage the pressure best on the biggest stages.

His success is underscored by the way he plays; the bold, attacking and creative shotmaking, the net forays and drop shots, and even the way it seems he must smile on court, and play with joy, in order to unlock his creativity. He took control in the fifth set of the French Open final against Alexander Zverev on Sunday not by grinding his opponent down but with ridiculous improvisation such as an angled forehand slice winner and a single-handed backhand pass.

“With drop shots, my volley, I wanted to develop my style being aggressive all the time,” he said on Sunday. “Of I’m course practising the defence and all that stuff, but my main goal is being aggressive as much as I can.”

The greatest part of his success, though, is that he still has so much room to maximise his potential. During the final two matches of Alcaraz’s title run, his struggles made it difficult not to think about the greatness of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams. They played so many massive matches in their careers, yet hid their nervousness expertly.

By contrast, in Alcaraz’s five-set wins against Jannik Sinner in the semi-final and Zverev in the final, the significance of the occasion was written over their faces. With such a massive opportunity for both of them – the first Roland Garros final without any member of the Big Three since 2004, their nerves looked suffocating.

Carlos Alcaraz celebrates with the French Open men’s singles trophy alongside a number of ballgirls and ballboys.View image in fullscreen

In both matches, Alcaraz endured cramps at important moments and neither he nor his opponents were able to perform at a consistently high level as the momentum drastically shifted. Only when the Spaniard fell down two sets to one did he find his feet and recover to win.

In his short career, Alcaraz has shown a remarkable ability to steady himself in the eye of the storm, to find his best tennis when it is most necessary even when he has been fighting himself for much of a match. In order to follow in the footsteps of the greats who have racked up major titles at such incredible rates, the next challenge for Alcaraz is learning how to be a more efficient player, to pounce whenever an opponent shows weakness and to be a commanding frontrunner as well as an excellent fighter.

This latest triumph was also preceded by an interesting, difficult period in Alcaraz’s career. He won only one title between his Wimbledon triumph and this French Open, and he experienced ample growing pains as he continued to learn his trade. Along with his tiredness at the end of last year and his sometimes erratic form, he has also had numerous injuries. This year, it will also be interesting to see if he can perform well and consistently until the end.

skip past newsletter promotion

As a player, Alcaraz also has significant room to improve.

In recent months he has changed his service motion in order to address one of the weaker points in his game. It is still a work in progress; Alcaraz’s serving was mixed in his final two matches. While he is blessed with a deep toolbox of shots, he can sometimes be erratic and impulsive, leaning too heavily on flashy, low-percentage ball‑striking. As he grows, shot selection will continue to improve.

After years of waiting for a player to follow in the footsteps of the Big Three, there could not be a better candidate. Alcaraz has already won more major titles (three) than all male players born in the 1990s combined (two). After Daniil Medvedev’s failure to defeat Sinner from two sets in front in the Australian Open final, players from the younger generation continue to prove themselves more capable of stepping up and taking the titles on offer.

This tournament also marked an interesting early inflection point for the most significant new rivalry, between Alcaraz and Sinner. While Alcaraz was struggling, Sinner’s run since October 2023 has been immense and had he defeated his opponent on Friday he could have already drawn level with the Spaniard on grand slam titles. Instead, Alcaraz remains ahead of any other young player, setting standards for the new generation. As he continues to grow, the question remains whether he too will one day make winning the biggest titles look routine.