Former women’s world number one Naomi Osaka says Spanish teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz has spurred a new wave of excitement for men’s tennis and says she is keen to watch him practice this week in Madrid.
Osaka, who is a wildcard at the Madrid Open, has been closely following Alcaraz’s meteoric rise to the top-10, at just the tender age of 18, and will be keeping an eye on him in the Spanish capital this fortnight.
“I feel like he’s genuinely made everyone excited about the ATP and I haven’t seen that in a very long time,” Osaka told reporters at the Caja Magica, where she faces a qualifier in the opening round.
Alcaraz has amassed an impressive 23-3 win-loss record so far this season and has risen to a career-high No 9 in the world on the back of capturing three titles in Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona.
The Spaniard is the youngest player to crack the top 10 since his compatriot Rafael Nadal achieved that feat at the same age 17 years ago.
“I’m not even really thinking about his age, like every time someone brings up his age, I’m like, ‘Oh wow, I forget, that’s so cool’,” said 24-year-old Osaka.
“I think just his game style, just how pumped he is, how I feel like I’m watching him learn with every tournament.
“I don’t know what his ranking was last year here, but I’ve watched almost every tournament that he’s played, the US Open when he played (Stefanos) Tsitsipas and just to see the growth I think is really exciting for everyone.”
Osaka, who won all four of her Grand Slam titles on hard courts, is keen to translate that success to the red dirt this season.
She prepared for the clay-court season by spending a few days training in Mallorca and said she has made some changes to her game, inspired by 13-time French Open champion Nadal.
“I think I stole one of the things that he did and I’ve been practising it recently,” Osaka said, referring to Nadal.
“It’ll either go really good or really bad. There’s like no in between.
“But I think as I’ve been doing it, it’s been going pretty well.
“Honestly I’ve been wanting to watch the really good clay-court players practice because I feel like I’m the type of person that learns really fast if I see it up close and honestly it’s a bit of a waste to have all these really good professional tennis players and not watch them.”
After making a tearful second-round exit at Indian Wells last month, where she was affected by a heckler in the crowd, Osaka rebounded 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 difficult moment for her but is choosing to see it as a positive learning experience.
“I feel like there are a lot of moments in my career that are like extremely sad for me at the time but I kind of later look back on it and I think to myself, ‘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 that’s one of those moments. I wish it didn’t happen, but also I’m glad that 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 experience.”