As Carlos Alcaraz turns 21, worries mount over his frequent breakdowns

Carlos Alcaraz with all smiles
Carlos Alcaraz with all smiles (PC: X)

This is not exactly turning out to be a happy birthday for Carlos Alcaraz, considered the heir apparent to Rafael Nadal, who turns 21 today. For a young man who has been projected as the next big thing in the world of tennis, he has not just been flirting with injuries, they seem to have fallen in love with the Spaniard’s body. This is not to ridicule Alcaraz, but to put in perspective how the rigours of modern-day tennis can destroy players. They compete through a gruelling schedule – mostly on hard courts, a few weeks of clay and, of course, the romantic, short grass-court season climaxing at Wimbledon.

Indeed, the youngster from Spain, who grabbed the attention of the tennis world when he won The Championships at Wimbledon in 2023 against Novak Djokovic, was seen as a superstar. After all, before that, in the last Grand Slam of 2022, he had made New Yorkers go bonkers with his fluency and feel in taming Casper Ruud on the hard court to win the US Open title.

At a time when tennis fans are unsure whether they will get to witness a final flicker from Nadal, Alcaraz and his plethora of injuries has tongues wagging. The latest image, of him competing with a huge sleeve protection on his right arm, does not make for great viewing. It did not need TV commentators to educate the tennis public that the projected big star of tennis was dealing with a problem.

“I felt some pain after playing in Madrid, some discomfort in my arm,” Alcaraz posted on social media platform X, two days ago. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to play in Rome. I need to rest so I can recover and play 100% pain free. I am very sorry, I will see you next year.”

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Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal
Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal (PC: X)

One is used to seeing such posts from Nadal, his countryman. To see Alcaraz in the same state is worrying. When he lost to Novak Djokovic last year in the French Open semi-finals, it was one of the bigger upsets. Alcaraz has, after all, preferred to call himself an exponent of clay-court tennis.

But then, what he said after the loss to the Serbian in June 2023 is fresh in the memory. Alcaraz was cramping all over, which was hard to digest. Paris is not like Melbourne during the Australian Open, weather-wise.  “I have never felt the tension like I did in that match (against Novak),” he said at the time. “I started the match really nervous. Really good rallies, tough rallies, drop shots, sprints, rallies. It’s a combination of a lot of things. But the main thing, it was the tension that I had all the two first sets. I started to cramp in my arm. At the beginning of the third set I started to cramp every part of my body, not only the legs. It was really tough for me to move in the third set, and in the fourth let’s say I had a little chance, but it was really tough, my full body started to cramp.”

Of course, Alcaraz bounced back, true to his word, at Wimbledon a few weeks later, where he was in turbo-charge mode against Djokovic in the final. One would tend to believe a prodigy like Alcaraz is built solid, at six feet tall and 74kg. But he has been dealing with many injuries, maybe due to the sheer physicality of his game.

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz (PC: X)

Here is a list of the niggles and injuries that have deprived him of precious momentum:

US Open 2021: Abdominal tear, retired in the quarter-finals.

Australian Open 2023:  Pain in leg muscle, withdrew.

Rio 2023: Grade-one strain in hamstring, lost final to Cameron Norrie.

Acapulco 2023: Withdrew from event, hamstring strain.

Monte Carlo 2023: Withdrew, spinal muscles/hand issues.

Basel 2023: Withdrew,  lower back and foot issues.

Rio 2024:  Retired in first match due to ankle injury.

Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome 2024:  Withdrew due to forearm pain.

If you look at those injuries, you wonder what shape Alcaraz is going to be in before the French Open. He is supposed to play Wimbledon and then the Paris Olympics. Nadal has spoken of wanting to play doubles with Alcaraz at the Olympics. It remains to be seen if either makes it to Paris.

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