Perhaps the next big tennis rivalry initially started on the ATP Challenger Tour.
When Carlos Alcaraz made his Challenger Tour debut at 15-years-old, he defeated 17-year-old Jannik Sinner 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 at the Alicante Challenger in 2019. The Spaniard made history that day, becoming the first player born in 2003 to win an ATP match.
This past week, Alcaraz and Sinner met for the fifth time in a thrilling quarter-final match at the US Open, where Alcaraz outlasted the Italian 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-7(0), 7-5, 6-3 in the second-longest match in US Open history (five hours, 15 minutes). The two youngsters produced a high quality of tennis, battling until 2:50 a.m. local time.
Alcaraz and Sinner have split their four ATP Tour-level meetings and the instant classic at Flushing Meadows proved that their matches will be must-watch television for years to come.
When the two met in a first-round match in Alicante three years ago, it was a display of some of the brightest teenage stars in the sport. It was that meeting on the clay courts of Spain that set that stage for their rivalry and the Challenger Tour is where both players embarked on their professional careers.
“This shows me that I have the level to play with these players,” Alcaraz told ATPTour.com in 2019, when speaking about the ATP Challenger Tour. “These matches give me very important experience. I need to continue improving and I’m sure that these matches will only make me better.”
Every player dreams of rising from the Challenger Tour to some day lifting a Grand Slam trophy. Alcaraz has done just that, from collecting his first Challenger title in August 2020 to triumphing at Flushing Meadows approximately two years later.
The Spaniard, who is a four-time Challenger titlist, captured his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open. Alcaraz broke into the Top 100 after claiming the title at the Oeiras Challenger In May 2021 and after triumphing at Flushing Meadows this past week, the 19-year-old climbed to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. His rise to the top spot was rooted in early success on the ATP Challenger Tour.
The Murcia native advanced through qualifying at the Trieste Challenger in August 2020, winning seven matches in nine days to claim his maiden Challenger title at 17. Rafael Nadal is the only Spaniard who has claimed a Challenger title at a younger age. The 22-time major champion captured his first title in Barletta, Italy as a 16-year-old and was two months younger than Alcaraz when he added a second crown on home soil in Segovia.
Carlos Alcaraz (left) celebrates his first ATP Challenger Tour title with coach and former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero. Credit: Citta di Trieste Challenger
“There are a lot of points at stake at the Challenger level,” Alcaraz told ATPTour.com after winning the Trieste Challenger. “To play at such a high level against really good players… It’s good preparation for when I compete at the biggest tournaments.”
Alcaraz continued building on his success, winning 10 consecutive matches in October 2020, when he captured two Challenger titles at home: Barcelona and Alicante.
With his 🏆 in Barcelona, @alcarazcarlos03 becomes just the fifth-youngest player to win multiple #ATPChallenger titles.
16y, 8m – Richard Gasquet
17y, 1m – Felix Auger-Aliassime
17y, 1m – Rafael Nadal
17y, 3m – Bernard Tomic
17y, 5m – Carlos Alcaraz pic.twitter.com/Vb8Equ7s2f
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) October 11, 2020
Alcaraz made his Tour-level debut at the ATP 500 event in Rio de Janeiro in February 2020, when he defeated countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The teenager was selected by fellow players as the Newcomer of the Year in the 2020 ATP Awards. The following season, Alcaraz triumphed in Umag, Croatia to capture his first ATP Tour title and won the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in November.
Alcaraz boasts five ATP Tour titles in 2022, a season-leading 51-9 match record and is the World No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
Even the highest-ranked player in the sport began his professional journey on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Former World No. 1 @juankiferri discusses his coaching tenure with surging 🇪🇸 teen Carlos Alcaraz, the youngest player in the ATP Rankings.
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) August 21, 2019