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Nadal inspires teen star to Miami Open crown

MIAMI: Carlos Alcaraz believes watching boyhood idol Rafael Nadal helped him become the youngest ever Miami Open champion on Sunday. Alcaraz, who turns 19 next month, showed why many believe he is currently the hottest young prospect in men’s tennis with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Norway’s world number eight Casper Ruud to land a first ATP Masters crown.

Only two men have won titles at this level at a younger age – Michael Chang, who was 18 years and five months old when he won in Toronto in 1990, and Rafael Nadal, 18 years and 10 months when he was victorious in Monte Carlo in 2005. Alcaraz dropped just one set on the way to his Miami triumph and now will head off to compete on his preferred surface of clay buoyed by the biggest win of his career.

There’s a long way to go before even getting close to replicating the legendary career of 21 Grand Slam-winning compatriot Nadal but Alcaraz says he plans to have fun trying. “I have always looked up to Rafa, I always watched his big moments and matches and learned a lot from that,” Alcaraz, who received a congratulatory call from Spain’s King Felipe VI, after a famous win which saw him collapse to the floor upon winning the final point, told AFP.

“When I fell to the floor, all the times I have dreamed of this came to me,” added Alcaraz, beaten by Nadal in the semi-finals at Indian Wells last month. Nadal was among the first to congratulate Alcaraz upon his win on Sunday, hailing a “historical” triumph. “The first of many to come I’m sure,” Nadal wrote on Twitter. Much is expected of Alcaraz whose passionate, all-energy displays in the latter stages of the Miami Open energized the Florida crowd. He insisted afterwards that his target now is to win a Grand Slam – and this was certainly a good start.

It was the more understated Norwegian, 23, however, who looked more comfortable in the early stages of what was his 10th ATP final by breaking early and keeping the pressure firmly on his precocious opponent. Despite the majority of the crowd backing the Spanish player, he was unable to take a break opportunity at 3-1 with Ruud proving he possesses the kind of mental strength to thrive in such high pressure situations.

‘Huge’ victory: Ferrero

Yet when another chance came to pierce the world number eight’s service game, Alcaraz, who reached the last four in Indian Wells last month, grabbed it before holding his own serve to put a lively first set firmly back in the balance at 4-4. A blistering forehand set up two more break points and although Ruud saved the first, he then hit wide to put Alacaraz in the driving seat to land the opening set. Two breaks at the start of the second set further cemented Alcaraz’s dominance, the teenager racing into a 3-0 lead which was too tall a mountain for the combative yet ultimately outclassed Ruud. “I didn’t expect to reach the final so I can’t be too upset,” said the Norwegian. “Carlos is very aggressive and a great mover. You think you’ve hit a winner but he is there to return it.”

It was an emotion-charged afternoon for Alcaraz and his camp who were boosted before the match when coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, the former world number one, who has been absent from the tournament following the death of his father, turned up to surprise his protege. “I planned to come here two days ago and after the semi-final win I wanted to surprise and give him even more support,” said Ferrero.

“It’s an unbelievably important victory, he’s growing up as a player and a person. He has to remain focused, calm and surround himself with the right people. “This will be huge for his confidence.” Alcaraz, who reached the last eight at the US Open last year, is already being tipped to help fill the superstar void when the likes of Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic finally depart the stage. “New blood is welcome,” added Ferrero. “I have known about his potential for the last three years so I am not surprised. “But it has all happened very fast.” – AFP

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