Juan Carlos Ferrero, the man who “builds” Carlos Alcaraz: “He still has a lot of room for improvement. And his obligation is not to win tournaments”
BUENOS AIRES – Juan Carlos Ferrero is Dorian Grey. Twenty years after reaching the number one tennis ranking, the Spaniard does not seem to show any signs of ageing. At 43, he is practically the same as he was at 23, although he admits he no longer has the physical or tennis reserves to play a set on equal terms with Carlos Alcaraz, the man he has been patiently building up as a player for the past five years, the young man he installed at number one in the 2022 season.
“It gives me to hold the level 45 minutes, then age shows. Carlos already plays too fast for me. I don’t give the necessary level to make a very even set”, admits Juan Carlos Ferrero during an interview with CLAY in which he gives the keys to the man who, after four months of absence due to injury, returns to the circuit at the Argentina Open, in Buenos Aires.
“He has a lot of things to improve,” says Ferrero. And he lists them with the precision and coldness of a surgeon. It is not the relationship between Toni and Rafael Nadal, as there is no kinship, but it is clear that Ferrero applies some of the Prussian discipline that trained that nephew who won 14 times Roland Garros.
Interview with Juan Carlos Ferrero
– What goals can a player who last season won his first Grand Slam and closed the year as number one set himself?
– He is obviously a young man who still has a lot of goals to achieve. Roland Garros is a very clear objective for him, also to be more consistent in the clay court season. Indian Wells is a tournament he would like to win, there are a lot of tournaments that motivate him a lot. I talked to him that he still has a lot of things to improve. Djokovic and Rafa are going to make it very difficult for him, as well as other players.
– After becoming number one, what changed in Alcaraz? Did you see anything special?
– No, not if we talk about personality and character, but many of the things that are lived on a daily basis do change. He has had to adapt after the US Open title to everything that is happening to him, that had to take its toll, as was normal, as was to be expected. But finishing the year as number one gave him more time to adapt better to the new situation.
– He talked about all the things he still has to improve. What are all the things he still has to improve?
– He has a lot of things to improve. The consistency in the serve, in the return to have better directions, to be better at the beginning of the matches, more regular, because many times it costs him a little bit to start. And on a technical level he also has a lot of things to improve, like his backhand slice, blocking the return…. Things that at 19 years old, no matter how much you are number one, you have to polish.
– When you read that Alcaraz has things of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in his game, do you agree?
– Well, obviously to be number one you have to have a lot of good things, and comparisons are always there. To be compared with these players, a little bit of each, for us are magic words. On a mental level he is a good player who is growing in that aspect, on a competitive level he is very good, on a stroke level he has that aggression of Djokovic, that approach to the net of Roger and mentally, obviously, Rafa. If you want to compare them with the three, I would go that way.
– And what does Alcaraz have in common with the player who was Juan Carlos Ferrero?
– The ability to know how to adapt to problems, which is one of the things I insist on. When you’re young you don’t know how to deal with all the setbacks that arise during the season, and he has grown in that respect. The way I train is very much my own: a lot of intensity with very clear objectives. And being a good boy, humble, is a parental upbringing, it comes from home, and I haven’t had to touch anything.
– Antonio Martinez Cascales, your former coach and now Alcaraz’s co-coach, said in an interview with CLAY that he has seen hits in training that he had never come across in his life. Is that so?
– Yes, in these four years I’ve seen fantastic shots, magic, talent, he’s a different player to anything I’ve ever seen. Being his coach I see those shots that Antonio talks about. He pulls fantastic shots out of the hat.
– Is there any shot that you have seen in training that you haven’t seen in tournaments?
– The most difficult and complicated was the passing-shot to De Miñaur match point down at the Conde de Godó. The one at the US Open (passing-shot from behind and on the run) was a great shot, but at the same time very natural, because he had almost no other option. But these shots are very difficult to see in players who are not special.
– Nadal and Djokovic can win playing between bad and average, is Alcaraz already at that level?
– The good thing about those who are very good is that a bad day gives them to give a great level. Carlos has always had that, since he was a kid, I’ve seen him have bad days when he can get himself together and come back after a very bad set. That has made him win a lot of matches this year.
– Will the big rivals in 2023 still be Nadal and Djokovic?
– Rafa and Djokovic have earned to be there, you can’t exclude them. Of course, I also give the others a chance. Tsitsipas, Zverev, Rublev, Medvedev, who always gives the level. There are many with options to lift a grand slam title, but Rafa and Novak is impossible to take them out of the equation.
– You had the opportunity to train also Zverev, but you always opted for Alcaraz. Why?
– If you train two players you don’t give one hundred percent. Coaching is a daily job, if you travel with someone else for a few weeks you’re not doing your job one hundred per cent. I got fully involved in Carlos’ project when he was 15 years old, and I saw that if I shared my time with another player I wouldn’t be able to work properly with Carlos to help him improve his level. Quickly, without haste, but without pause.
– After that short time in which you coached him, Zverev even said that there was a lack of respect from you. What are you saying?
– The difference between us was professionalism, he had a very different culture to mine. And I recognise that in some things I’m quite square, but in other things I wasn’t so square. We didn’t quite fit together in some aspects and we decided to go our separate ways and now whenever we see each other we have a magnificent relationship with him, his family and all his team.
– Together with Alcaraz, in 2022 you won his first Grand Slam and reached number one. What would be a success in 2023?
– The goal is to keep growing as a player. What we want is for him to stay at the top for a long time, to keep playing well, to keep competing and winning very important tournaments. Talking about tournaments and success is rash and puts a bit of pressure on him. He knows he doesn’t have to, but he is one of the favourites to win tournaments. We know that if he gives the level he will have a chance to win important tournaments. To say today what would be a success and what would not is very difficult. to be happy with himself and the work he does, to give one hundred percent, it is his obligation. Winning tournaments is not his obligation. Winning tournaments is a consequence of that. If he doesn’t finish 2023 as number one… You see the names that are up there and how difficult it is, we will do our best to have the best year possible. Carlos has had a fantastic year, to equal it would be a super success and to improve on it, you can’t even count on it. And if he plays a little bit worse it’s normal. But Carlos surprises me a lot, when you think that something is no longer possible, he pulls things out of his sleeve.
– You competed on the tour before Nadal arrived, reached the number one when he began to make an impact as a player and now train the young man who disputes the number one to Nadal. If you think about it a little bit, it’s an extraordinary story.
– It is very nice, there is a very good relationship, very healthy (with Nadal) and it is being very nice to live it, of course.
– Do you see Nadal playing until he is 40?
– As he has said, he still has a lot of desire and I think it is the physical that will set the limits. In 2022 he won titles like two Grand Slams, it is normal that he is still motivated. It discourages you when you no longer give the level. As long as he continues to give the level he is giving, he will continue to be motivated. He will retire when he doesn’t feel competitive and is not having a good time.
– What is different in tennis today compared to your time?
– Players, tennis and the sport are growing up. Comparing the eras has been complicated. Is the game different now than it was before? In some ways yes, in others no. The balls are different, the racquets are different, the strings have improved, the courts are generally slower. The big difference is that before you used to build the point more, now you play a lot to destroy, there is a lot of explosiveness in the players, a lot of power, you don’t build the point so much.
– Exactly the same thing that Nadal said in November in Buenos Aires.
– I hadn’t heard that! We agree.
– As a Davis Cup champion and former captain, do you like the new format of the tournament?
– The old format was more special, both playing at home and the special hook of playing away. It was knowing how to play with everything against you, I remember very difficult qualifiers in which I came out stronger mentally. I remember one in Holland which was quite a shock, another in Morocco which was at home, but we seemed to be away from home. The same with Argentina in Malaga. I really enjoyed the Davis Cup and it was a very nice format. Sometimes not everything evolves for the better. In terms of the schedule for the players it’s better, but in terms of attracting the public, it’s not.
– Are you Dorian Grey?
– (laughs) It must be the cold of Villena. Well, I follow my players’ routines. Two hours with Carlos training helps, I also join the gym, I like to keep working and keep myself well. And I live in the academy, I have everything very easy to keep myself well.
– How are you doing playing with Alcaraz?
– No, not anymore. I can hold my own for 45 minutes, then age shows. Carlos plays too fast for me. I don’t give the necessary level to give him a very even set.
If you enjoyed this interview with Juan Carlos Ferrero, don’t miss this link to many other interviews with the great tennis stars.