Such is the talent of Carlos Alcaraz that it is easy to forget he is still an 18-year-old who finished school just last year and only recently passed his driving test. The Rio Open presented by Claro champion benefits from a solid group of people around him in his mission to grow, both on and off court.
“When he’s on court, he doesn’t look like a boy,” his friend Pablo Carreno Busta tells ATPTour.com. “He is very mature, but of course off court he still has things to improve. [His coach] Juan Carlos [Ferrero] knows what it is to be the No. 1 in the world and as that is Carlos’ goal, he takes care of a lot of things.
“For example, Juan Carlos really insists that he [Alcaraz] has to go to bed early,” adds Carreno Busta, who has been Alcaraz’s practice partner for many years at the Equelite Ferrero Academy. “[He also helps with] things like his mobile phone and Instagram…normal, everyday things, but things you have to control.
“That’s also good. Carlos is a kid with a lot of room for improvement.”
Fast & Fabulous: Why Carlos Alcaraz Won’t Slow Down After Top 20 Milestone
The entourage of experience surrounding the #NextGenATP star helps keep his feet on the ground. Even more so at moments like this, when he is enjoying breaking into the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings for the first time. None of the Big Three (Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal) managed to reach such heights so young.
Despite such precocious success, many people around Alcaraz constantly remind him of how far he has yet to go. Carreno Busta is one of them. “I’ve managed to help him with certain things, and it’s a genuine pleasure for me,” says the World No. 16, who is also Alcaraz’s regular doubles partner. “Hopefully I can continue to help. For me it would be great news if Carlos learns something from me or watches me, or if I help by training with him.”
One on-court skill Carreno Busta has passed on is touch. “Drop shots, counter drop shots, tricking your opponent…things you do in training when you’re relaxed, but when it comes to matches, they can really help you,” says Carreno Busta. “Things like that, he copies them, and with great ease because he really learns quickly as soon as you show him something.”
Although Carreno Busta is a mentor, there is also a brotherly aspect to his relationship with a player twelve years his junior. “There is competition, of course,” says the six-time ATP Tour titlist. “We compete to see who has the best shot in training. But not only in tennis. We are even competitive when we play chess and golf…or anything. That’s when there’s healthy competition between us.”
Who comes out on top more often? “At the moment I’m able to beat him in most things,” answers Carreno Busta with a smile. “At the end of the day, I have more experience at the moment, but in tennis I’m not sure if I’d beat him anymore because he’s improving really fast.” In fact, improving so quickly that Alcaraz, who was outside the Top 130 a year ago, is now just 159 points behind Pablo in the ATP Rankings.
“We’ve trained a lot together,” explains Carreno Busta. “I always thought he had something special. Even so, it was difficult to predict that he would be that good so quickly, which shows how much he has grown in the last two years. I think I’ve been lucky to coincide with him, to see him close up in pre-season, seeing all his hard work.”
Carreno Busta takes brotherly pride in Alcaraz’s improvement and doesn’t miss any of his friend’s matches, even when they are not in the same place. “I watch him whenever he plays,” says the 30-year-old. “While I was travelling to Acapulco, for example, I watched what I could of his final in Rio. And I’m really happy. I’m happy about every good thing that happens to him, because he deserves it. As well as being a great tennis player, he’s very polite, very likeable, very nice and well-mannered, just like his family and those around him.”
Despite Alcaraz’s rapid progress and the possibility that his younger compatriot may one day win the pair’s first clash on the ATP Tour, Carreno Busta has no intention of stepping back from supporting and guiding the 18-year-old. Like any brotherly relationship, however, that doesn’t mean he will always give Alcaraz an easy ride.
“Now he has his driving licence, he can finally take me somewhere in his car,” adds Carreno Busta. “But not yet. When he has more experience…I still don’t trust him!”