Chasing After Greatness

By Aoun Jafarey

Carlos Alcaraz Garfia. 

You might have heard of him, but by the end of this piece I hope you really (please applaud me for not impersonating BG and using Reilly instead of really) start to take notice of him.

Here’s a list of 13 men’s tennis champions you should definitely know of (in no real order but I’m putting one name atop because some fans read into the order of lists more than others):

Novak Djokovic
Pete Sampras
Andre Agassi
Roger Federer
Ivan Lendl
Jimmy Connors
John McEnroe
Andy Murray
Rafael Nadal
Bjorn Borg
Stefan Edberg
Boris Becker
Mats Wilander

Why them? 3+ Major titles, at least on 2 different surfaces, too many other significant titles, all of them have been ranked number one in the world, 500+ match wins, top 30 for all time titles, etc. These guys are for all practical purposes the cream of the crop to have ever played the game on the men’s side.

This isn’t about which of them is the greatest, this is more about how greatness looks before it punches us in the face and demands that we acknowledge it. It’s easy now to see these players as the greatest after all that they have achieved, but it wasn’t a guarantee for any of them that they would end where they did. Ask any of them. However, what if I told you that you could separate them from the rest of the pack within a couple of years on tour? Because you kind of can.

Look at this: 

This chart shows the aggregated career win % of the 13 men I listed earlier. I did this by summing each of their individual results as a win or loss for their first 100 matches. So what you see is a constant improvement and that the average for these 13 men was a win rate of 69% (yes I rounded up because you can’t win half a match) at the end of their first 100 matches

Fun fact: McEnroe leads the pack; he had 72 wins in his first 100 matches on tour.

But these are the very best of the best, so to provide some further context, take a look again and now you can see how a great player like Juan Martín del Potro (JMDP) looked at this stage of his career: 

This is a very respectable 55 wins in 100 matches, however, JMDP quite far off from the elite group after his 40th match or so. You can see the lines starting to diverge. Now that you have that context, here’s how Carlos Alcaraz (CAG) looks: 

Note how Alcaraz isn’t just above the green line of greatness, he’s actually pulling farther away from it.

He’s ahead. Let me repeat that. He is ahead. As of right now he’s equal to the best performer of the lot at 61 career matches on the pro-tour, he shares the record of 42 wins in 61 matches with John McEnroe.

And if this isn’t enough, well.. game, set, and match (read it like Mohamed Lahyani is saying it).

The size of the bubble reflects the number of titles.

Even the likes of Nadal, Djokovic, Borg, Federer, McEnroe, Wilander, and Sampras had no titles to show for their efforts in their first 61 matches on tour. It’s quite normal. What’s new is someone winning 3 of them in as few matches and tournaments played. Sure, they aren’t “big titles” but there are players who have great and prolonged careers who have to wait to get to 100s of match wins in order to get a single title. Alcaraz already has 3 of them. He’s already got wins over multiple top 20 guys. He’s beaten Tsitsipas at the U.S. Open and came close to beating Berrettini (from two sets down!) in Melbourne. He’s beaten a former world number one in Andy Murray. 

The only edge anyone in that elite group has over Alcaraz comes in the form of John McEnore having a better sets won/lost ratio, that’s it. Every other measure has Alcaraz in the mix or ahead.

Is it early days? Of course it is, but if you’ve watched the young Spaniard play, you know there’s a hint of something special here. He plays drop shots with the finesse of a tour veteran, he knows where his opponent is going to go with their next shot, he reads the game as well as I have ever seen any teenager read it, he’s already propelled his physique to a point where he can outhit and outlast his opponents. Endurance and power are not easy to develop together but CAG has put in the hard work and that should tell you everything about his state of mind and commitment to playing the long game. He’s not here to be a flash in the pan, he’s chasing after greatness and the sooner you recognize it, the more time you’ll get to spend watching him ascend all the way to the top of men’s tennis. I don’t know how many majors and Masters he will win but I am pretty sure that the 2020s will end up being remembered as a decade that saw the rise and dominance of Carlos Alcaraz Garfia. 


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