Former women’s world number one Naomi Osaka says Spanish teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz has sparked a new wave of enthusiasm for men’s tennis and says she can’t wait to see him train this week in Madrid.
Osaka, who is a wild card at the Madrid Open, has closely followed Alcaraz’s meteoric rise to the top 10, aged just 18, and will be watching him in the Spanish capital this fortnight.
“I feel like he really got everyone excited about the ATP and I haven’t seen that in a very long time,” Osaka told reporters at Caja Magica, where she faces a qualification. in the first round.
Alcaraz has amassed an impressive 23-3 win-loss record so far this season and moved up to 9th in the world in a career after winning three titles in Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona.
The Spaniard is the youngest player to reach the top 10 since his compatriot Rafael Nadal achieved the feat at the same age 17 years ago.
“I don’t even really think about his age, like every time someone brings up his age I’m like, ‘Oh wow, I forget, that’s so cool,'” Osaka, 24, said.
“I just think about his style of play, how pumped he is, how much I feel like I’m watching him learn in every tournament.
“I don’t know what his ranking was last year here, but I watched almost every tournament he played, the US Open when he played (Stefanos) Tsitsipas and just to see the growth I think that’s really exciting for everyone.”
Osaka, who has won her four Grand Slam titles on hard courts, is keen to translate that success to red clay this season.
She prepared for the clay-court season by spending a few days training in Mallorca and said she had made some changes to her game inspired by 13-time French Open champion Nadal.
“I think I stole one of the things he did and practiced it recently,” Osaka said, referring to Nadal.
“It will either go very well or very badly. There is no in-between.
“But I think the way I did, it went pretty well.
“Honestly, I wanted to watch the really good clay court players practice because I feel like I’m the kind of person who learns really fast if I see it up close and honestly, it’s kind of dumb. waste of having all these really good professional tennis players and not watching them.”
After making a tearful second-round exit at Indian Wells last month, where she was affected by a rowdy crowd, Osaka bounced back in style in Miami, reaching the final before losing to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Osaka, who says she hopes to reach at least the semi-finals in Madrid or Rome in the build-up to Roland Garros, admits it was a tough time for her but chooses to see it as a positive learning experience.
“I feel like there were a lot of moments in my career that were extremely sad for me at the time, but I look back on that a bit later and I’m like, ‘Well, that really made me grow as a person, and even though I really hated the experience, I’m glad it happened to me,” she explained.
“For me, this is one of those moments. I wish it hadn’t happened, but I’m also glad it did.
“I feel like it prepared me for a lot of things that may or may not happen, but it’s kind of like one of those things you have in your back pocket as an experience.”