Carlos Alcaraz should "never" be compared to tennis GOATs Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic given the way he ascended to the world No. 1 ranking in 2022, believes Mats Wilander.
This time last year, Alcaraz had just won the Next Gen Finals, the year-end tournament crowning the world's best player under 21 years of age.
Fast forward 12 months, and the Spaniard - still only 19 - is world No. 1 proper, having embarked on a superlative year, winning a host of elite tournaments, and then landing his first major at the US Open by beating Casper Ruud in September.
Tennis
Nadal hints he will not play professional tennis in Mexico again
A DAY AGO
Wilander says he has "never seen anything like" what Alcaraz managed to do, but also warned that he will need some time for his newfound status to sink in.
"I think it will be really hard to digest 2022 for Alcaraz," Wilander told Eurosport. "But I also think [coach] Juan Carlos Ferrero is going to know exactly what they need to do.
"I think that there's a validation process that has to happen for Carlos. 'Am I really No. 1 in the world?' That was an unbelievable year. But hold on. There's Holger Rune. There's Djokovic. There is Daniil Medvedev.
"I mean, 'what you're putting me as No. 1 as a 19 year old?'. So I think there's going to be a bit of doubt there, and I think that you have to take care of that doubt by working really hard physically and mentally and really finding how he needs to play tennis when he is not feeling good.
"When we see Rafa play and he's not playing well, to me, he's always gone back to an extremely simple way of playing tennis for him. Novak as well. And when they play well, they blow you off the court with a big forehand.
"But when they're not, they go into that grinding mode of 'okay guys, this is going to be physical, mental, emotional, very, very tactical. I hate losing, and that's it'.
"For Carlos, that's where it's going to be difficult. Can he laugh and smile his way through the next couple of years? Win or lose, that's going to be the biggest challenge and that's what I'm looking forward to the most also.
"He doesn't have to be considered the greatest player, but one thing is for sure: it is fun as hell to watch him play tennis when he's that good and he's laughing at the same time.
"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.
"Never compare him to Rafa, Roger and Novak, the way he did it I've never seen anything like it."

YOUNG GUNS SET FOR NO. 1 FIGHT

Wilander also reckons a battle royale might be on the cards among the young emerging players of the ATP Tour, citing Rune, who beat Djokovic to the title in Paris, as one of those capable of potentially unseating Alcaraz as No. 1.
"Rune said he's going to be No. 1 in the world and this might generate disappointment, if it does not happen right away," Wilander said.
"Imagine if Casper [Ruud] would have gone out and said that last year. Then had this year where he made three finals. People would say 'whoa, yeah, he can never, ever win a big tournament. There's no chance, he's lost three finals in one year'.
"So my first reaction would be to say it's wrong and it's dangerous [to say you will be No. 1], but if it motivates you as a player, then go ahead, and if it's that simple to you as a player...
"When I hear Carlos Alcaraz talk about tennis and the way I see him play, it is that simple... he's just happy playing tennis, and he says 'I want to be No. 1 in the world. No strings attached, no nothing. It's no mind games and nothing. It's just what I feel'.

‘Fighting for biggest titles and winning them’ – Ruud impressed by Alcaraz and Rune

"For Holger, he must probably have to clean up his body language slightly on court, which he will, because he's only 19 and he's an unbelievably quick learner, for sure. I think it will help his tennis to be a little bit more settled and maybe neutral in terms of showing good vibes and bad vibes because other guys are going to start picking up on it and there's going to be people in the crowd that some people are going to say 'whoa, this is a bit unusual in a way'. But at the same time, the fight that he puts up is incredible. So we don't really know.

Denmark's Holger Rune celebrates with the trophy after winning his men's singles final tennis match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic, on day 7 of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Paris Masters

Image credit: Getty Images

"I have no idea where these 19-year-old kids are coming from. To crawl out of the hole that we dug for all of them saying there is no chance that we will ever have a Wilander or Boris Becker or Michael Chang ever again [a young prodigy at the top of the game], repeating it was not possible anymore, that the physical toll was too much. Well, apparently it is not.
"So for them to fight through that and break through the glass ceiling, it takes a mind, which is what they're telling you - 'I want to be number one in the world'. Okay, I believe you. So, yeah, it's all good to me.
"He [Rune] is a great player and he's going to be great for the game."
- - -
Stream the 2023 Australian Open live on discovery+ and eurosport.co.uk
Australian Open
Tennis Australia reveal 'summer of tennis' calendar ahead of Australian Open
01/12/2022 AT 09:49
Tennis
'Extreme levels' - Nadal says rivalry with Djokovic and Federer behind their longevity
30/11/2022 AT 22:55