Antonio Martínez Cascales (Villena, Alicante; 64 years old) is the man who shaped the tennis of Juan Carlos Ferrero and the one who guided the rise of the Valencian to number one. He knows perfectly well the dizziness and doubts that surround talent on the way to the top and the repercussions of an early explosion. Today he continues to supervise the development of the young people who are trained in the academy that he built in his town, almost three decades ago, and at the same time he is part of the court that surrounds Carlos Alcaraz. At 19 years old, the Murcian became the youngest king in history in September and later experienced the gigantic weight of responsibility, knowing himself pointed out and scrutinized by the millions of eyes that identify him as the next chosen one of the racket.
In the absence of Ferrero, who will meet his player again on the North American tour on cement, Cascales accompanies Alcaraz these days in South America, after several difficult months and having suffered two injuries that undermined his defense of the throne. “Since he likes to compete, it has been a bit difficult for him, really,” replies the coach from Rio de Janeiro, where the tennis player tackles his second challenge of the course after the title obtained last week in Buenos Aires. “It is always difficult to return, and even more so after three months of hiatus [por el abdominal y un percance posterior en la pierna derecha]. She has handled it well, but in the last two or three weeks he has been wanting to compete. You never want to miss any Grand Slam, but if it does happen, it better be the first one because then you have the whole year ahead of you,” he adds.
Before landing in Brazil and flying over Rio by helicopter, the tennis player – double 6-4 against Brazilian Mateus Alves in the restart this Wednesday – admitted that he felt “guilty” for not having done things completely well off the court , victim of boom that Ferrero himself had to manage in his day.
“After the US Open, some things changed, in the sense that it had a lot of commitments both at the sponsor level and at the institutional or social level. When something like this happens to you, a lot of people come up to you, and some of those people are more famous… There are people who don’t understand how demanding tennis is as an individual sport, that it has a calendar like the one he has, and he refers to everything that”, specifies Cascales; “He lacked a bit of the tranquility that he had had these two years ago in training. You can do without some institutional commitment, but not commercial ones [por exigencias contractuales]; In addition, unfortunately you have to do without some social commitments or invitations that for a boy of his age are very appetizing ”.
The coach emphasizes the player’s youth and vulnerability to exposure, now that Alcaraz is raffled off by brands –Nike, Babolat, Isdin, BMW or the Region of Murcia, among other agreements– and presides over buildings in some large cities posing in underwear. “Between the family and the group that we are around him, we try to make him understand the process; we do it by talking a lot and from a positive perspective. It’s not easy, because he’s 19 years old and has a very outgoing personality, which makes it very easy to get to him, and those people who get to him often don’t understand the demands of tennis. I think that in that sense he is maturing, so little by little ”, continues Cascales, who in turn underlines the ravages of a calendar that hardly allows pauses or truces.
Last season, Alcaraz played 70 duels, distributed in 17 tournaments. And, finally, his muscles broke in Paris-Bercy, keeping him from the Masters Cup and the Davis Cup. “The matches come as they come. You have to sign up for tournaments a month and a half in advance, and you don’t know how the previous weeks are going to go; with which, except for those who have a little more margin [por la normativa de la ATP, por su permanencia en el circuito]It’s not easy for most. As you stabilize in the ranking and you go up you can start to structure the calendar much better, but while things come as they come ”, he emphasizes.
Objective: Roland Garros and Wimbledon
The physical exhaustion and stress ended up taking their toll on Alcaraz’s body, who planned to land at the Australian Open again without competing, only with the base provided by the preseason. However, on December 4, during a session, his right leg failed him in a snatch. The mishap deprived him of the first major of the year and confined him to the infirmary until the comeback last week in Argentina, where he won the seventh title of his career.
“In training he does not measure, he does not measure the effort or the race,” Cascales specifies. “This is positive and he is like that, but at the same time he has a negative component. This is what makes him so explosive and so fast in matches, because in training he does exactly the same; what happens is that by training like this there is a danger that what happened that day will happen. He made a sprint and… Some will say that it is unnecessary to go for that ball, but he would lose his essence at the same time. Little by little he will learn to measure, but he must not lose his way of being. For example, shortly before coming here he went for an extreme, extreme, extreme ball and it fell into the corner. And that the courts of our academy are great… And you say to yourself, but why are you going for that ball? But you can’t even ask him why, because it’s in his DNA, ”he asserts.
Spare, Alcaraz has resumed the march with the turbo and, according to Cascales, focuses his gaze on the big stages. “Coming back like this gives you enormous confidence,” he replies. “But now he’s not so focused on getting number one back as he is on winning tournaments. Now he has the focus there ”, continues the coach, aware that he has raised the bar because the surprise effect of last year has disappeared. “This year it will be a little more difficult because the rest know better how to face a game against him. Now, on the other hand, people begin to know that it is very difficult to play against him and that everything has to be practically perfect for them. He has earned fame, because he is losing 5-1 and he is encouraged as if he were above it ”.
Cascales gives the example of Sunday’s final against Norrie. “He came out very strong, but when he missed a little and Carlitos hit a little more, the game changed,” he recalls. “And there is the key: maintain the level. It should be more linear during points.” What he calls maturity. “Obviously you can improve in shots and details, but maturing means that if you play 70% of the points well, you go up to 75% or 80%. That is maturing. Sometimes, first it hits a blow with so many revolutions that it does not make entirely sense; sometimes it is better to hit three shots with less revs to better control the point than one at 200 per hour ”, he adds. If you’re 40-0, maybe you can hit one of these, because he has that ability, but if the game is even, maybe it’s better to bet on control
Asked about the goal set for 2023, the coach concluded decisively: “He would like to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon, that’s what’s on his mind right now. in Astana [octubre] I told him that his objective was going to be to recover number one, and he told me: ‘but Toni, I’m already number one’. And I replied: ‘yeah, but you’ll lose it… It’ll take fifteen weeks or fifteen months, but you’ll lose it and at a certain point you’ll have that goal again’. Now he already has it, but he is more focused on tournaments ”.
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