Australian Open 2021: 'Next Nadal' Carlos Alcaraz wins first Grand Slam match in straight sets

Brushing aside the hype, the 17-year-old Alcaraz made quick work of his first-round opponent at the Australian Open on Tuesday, defeating Dutch qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 for his maiden win at a major.

The Associated Press February 09, 2021 17:52:06 IST
Australian Open 2021: 'Next Nadal' Carlos Alcaraz wins first Grand Slam match in straight sets

Carlos Alcaraz in action at the Australian Open. AP

Melbourne: Carlos Alcaraz had not even played a Grand Slam match when Toni Nadal, the uncle and longtime coach of Rafael Nadal, anointed him the successor of his illustrious nephew.

Brushing aside the hype, the 17-year-old Alcaraz made quick work of his first-round opponent at the Australian Open on Tuesday, defeating Dutch qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 for his maiden win at a major.

And with that, the 141st-ranked Alcaraz became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam singles match since Thanasi Kokkinakis at the 2014 Australian Open.

Alcaraz himself isn't big on the comparisons with Nadal, despite some similarities. Alcaraz has a muscular game, with fast reflexes and a ferocious intensity. His fist pumps are punctuated with cries of “Vamos” and his grunt certainly matches Nadal's in terms of decibels.

Nadal also won his first Grand Slam match at the age of 17, beating Mario Ancic at Wimbledon in 2003.

Alcaraz — who unlike Nadal plays right-handed, it should be noted — said after his match that he's trying to keep the focus on himself and his game and not “hear the comparisons with Rafa.”

That said, he does look to Nadal for inspiration.

“He trains with a lot of intensity all the time,” he said. “Each ball, he try to hit harder every (time). I think he’s focused from the first ball to the last ball. I think it is a good thing to keep.”

And Nadal himself sees a bright future for Alcaraz, provided the promising teen is able to continue improving in the next few years.

“He has intensity. He has the passion. He has the shots,” Nadal said. “Depends on how much you will be able to improve that will make the difference ... if you’re going to be very good or if you’re going to be an amazing champion.”

The setting for Alcaraz's breakthrough couldn't have been further removed from Rod Laver Arena, where Nadal beat Laslo Djere in the first round. Alcaraz was scheduled on distant Court 17, where his smashes potentially could hit a passing tram if they cleared the fence.

He did, however, have a fairly packed crowd behind him, including his coach, former No. 1-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero, and U.S. Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta.

Alcaraz next faces Sweden's Mikael Ymer for a chance to reach the third round — and match Nadal's performance on his Grand Slam debut in 2003.

“I’m very happy to (get) this win today in my first Grand Slam,” he said. “I try to enjoy, to play my game. I think I did it.”

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