Rafael Nadal says Carlos Alcaraz "aspires to be one of the best in history" as he evaluated the stunning progress of his countryman in 2022.
Alcaraz ended the year as world No. 1, a feat many wouldn't have predicted given his tender age - 19 - and limited experience on the ATP Tour.
But he won tournaments in Rio, Miami, Barcelona and Madrid, and capped those successes with a first major at the US Open in September.
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Nadal didn't have too bad a year either, landing two Grand Slams - at the Australian Open and French Open - to take his total to 21, before injury hampered him in the second half of the season.
The 36-year-old, now in South America for a swing of exhibition matches with Casper Ruud, says that he is "happy" for Alcaraz's emergence, especially seen from a Spanish perspective.
"There has always been a generational change," Nadal said.
"It is true that we [Spain] had been missing [new players] in recent years, we were only Nadal, [Pablo] Carreno, [Roberto] Bautista, but now someone very special has arrived.
"Carlos is a very different player, who aspires to be one of the best in history.
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Carlos Alcaraz (L) and Rafael Nadal (R)
Image credit: Getty Images
"He is young, he has started well, he has the potential to achieve great things and he is already achieving them.
"I'm happy to have someone very good in our country and that we [can] enjoy him for many years."
Nadal also added his thoughts on the younger generation that is coming through alongside Alcaraz, and believes they will fill the void left when the 'Big Three' eventually of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and himself are all gone, with the Swiss having bowed out of tennis at the recent Laver Cup.
"In the past there was Borg, Vilas, Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, Lendl... today we are here," Nadal said.
"There is nothing more important than the sport itself, I have said it many times. And somehow there will be four Grand Slam champions every year, and at historical tournaments, of Masters 1000 events.
"It is a reality that we have seen three players who have done things that had not been achieved in the past. The next generation will have to carve their way. It will take a while, stars will have to be generated, but they are on their way.
"There are already players of the new generation who have won Grand Slams. Here we have Casper who has been doing important things for years.
"There is a great generation of young people who will keep this sport very high."
Alcaraz accepts that 2023 will be a "difficult" year for him, given his status as No. 1 that gives him a target on his back - and a huge swathe of ranking points to defend.
Eurosport Mats Wilander echoed those thoughts, and like Alcaraz - who refuted comparisons with Nadal when he was his age - also said the 19-year-old should "never" be compared to Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, chiefly for the way in which he performed in 2022.
"He’s the most inspirational tennis player that we have because of what he did in 2022 and most of all because of the way he did it," Wilander said.
"Never compare him to Rafa, Roger and Novak, the way he did it I've never seen anything like it."
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