Rafael Nadal has backed rising star Carlos Alcaraz to eventually learn how to deal with the pressure of always being a pre-tournament favourite, saying for now the youngster should be playing “freely” and “just enjoy every match”.
On the back of winning four titles – including two ATP Masters 1000 events – Alcaraz has surged up in the ATP Rankings and currently sits at a career-high No 4.
He was seeded second for last week’s Canadian Open with many making him the favourite to win the event, but he fell in his opening match as he went down in three sets against the unseeded Tommy Paul from the United States.
The Spaniard is seeded third behind world No 1 Daniil Medvedev and Nadal for this week’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, but admitted ahead of his opening match that he succumbed to the pressure in Montreal.
“I understood everything of what happened in Montreal. I couldn’t handle the pressure to be one of the favourites to win the tournament or be the ranking that I am right now,” he revealed. “I come here to train and now show where I am.
“The kind of player I am means that I am trying to use the pressure in my favour. I know I am playing against the best players in the world, so I am going to try my best.”
Alcaraz has been tipped to win several Grand Slams and become world No 1 with some saying his career will follow a similar path to that of Nadal, who also broke through in his teens and went on to become one of the most dominant forces on the ATP Tour.
Nadal was asked what advice he would give his fellow Spaniard and replied: “I think he [Carlos Alcaraz] has the right people next to him. I don’t have to tell him [any advice on handling pressure] anything, until he asks me.
“I think when you are very young and you are coming up and growing in the rankings just every week, in some way things are a little bit easier because you don’t have that pressure that you have to win every week.”
Of course the pressure is different when you are winning tournaments with Nadal admitting when he broke through he didn’t feel an “obligation” to win every event.
He added: “If you make the quarter-finals, great. If you make the semi-finals, good. If you make the final, fantastic. And if you win, it’s amazing. It’s everything new and I remember at that stage of my career that you don’t feel an obligation to win every week. You just play free. You probably don’t realise how difficult is the things that you are doing, just enjoying every match playing without pressure.
“But of course, when you are very high in the ranking, you arrive to a tournament and the expectations are ‘okay, maybe I need to win this tournament.’ Then the situation, the approach and mentality change a little bit.
“But I don’t think it’s something that is affecting him [Alcaraz] a lot. I think he’s great and I think he’s having an amazing season. I don’t see him having any problem handling this kind of pressure.”
Nadal will kick off his ATP Masters 1000 campaign in Cincinnati against either Lorenzo Musetti or Borna Coric on Wednesday while Alcaraz faces American Mackenzie McDonald in his second-round clash.
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