Rafael Nadal in 2005 vs Carlos Alcaraz in 2022

Comparing the 2 Spanish teenagers in their maiden Grand Slam-winning year

Carlos Alcaraz made his mark on the tennis world at the 2022 US Open, becoming the first teenager since Rafael Nadal in 2005 to win a men’s singles Grand Slam title. Playing against Casper Ruud in the final, the Spaniard overcame a minor dip in form in the second set to close out the contest in four sets, sealing the World No. 1 spot in the process as well.

At 19, Alcaraz became the youngest ever player to be ranked World No. 1 in ATP history, and the first ever teenager to do so. Helped in part by the lack of ranking points at Wimbledon and thanks mainly to his double Masters 1000 titles in Madrid and Miami, the Spaniard has written himself into the record books.

But at this point, a question arises in the mind of every Nadal fan: Why did the 22-time Grand Slam champion never become World No. 1 when he was a teenager in 2005? After all, he too won his maiden Grand Slam that year at the French Open, becoming the first teenager since Pete Sampras in 1990 to win a Major.

In fact, 2005 was a monster season for Nadal, widely regarded as one of the most dominant seasons for any teenager on the ATP tour. The Mallorcan won a staggering 11 tour-level titles that year, including the Monte-Carlo Masters, the Barcelona Open and the Rome Masters.

After his triumph in Paris, the southpaw went on to take the Canada Masters and the Madrid Masters on hardcourt to close out the season. Overall, Nadal finished 2005 with a 79-10 win/loss record, winning the ATP Most Improved Player Award. And yet, the best he could manage was the World No. 2 spot.

The reason? The one and only Roger Federer. In 2005, the Swiss maestro won 11 titles — the same number as the 22-time Grand Slam champion. But two of those were Grand Slams — the Wimbledon Championships and the US Open.

Federer also won the Halle Open, the Hamburg Masters and the Cincinnati Masters, as well as the Sunshine Double to go with it. He took home the Qatar Open, the Dubai Tennis Championships and the Rotterdam Open as well.

Roger has been one of my idols and a source of inspiration! 🥲 Thank you for everything you have done for our sport! ❤️ I still want to play with you! 🥹 Wish you all the luck in the world for what comes next! 💪🏻 @Roger Federer https://t.co/k4xjyN3AAB

He reached the semifinals of both the Australian Open and the French Open, losing to eventual champions Marat Safin and Nadal, respectively.

The Spaniard, meanwhile, had very poor returns at the other three Majors — a fourth-round exit in Australia, a second-round exit at Wimbledon and a third-round exit in New York. That is what ultimately sealed Federer the top spot.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion ended the season with an unbelievable 81-4 win/loss record, winning the ATP Player of the Year Award for the second season in a row. To this day, it remains the second-most successful season in terms of win percentage (95.2%), behind only John McEnroe’s mesmerizing run in 1984.

Rafael Nadal finished nearly 2,000 ranking points behind Roger Federer despite his stellar display throughout the year

Rafael Nadal (L) &  Roger Federer in 2005
Rafael Nadal (L) & Roger Federer in 2005

In any other season, Rafael Nadal would have walked away with the World No. 1 spot. But because of a near-invincible Federer in front of him, the-then teenager was unlucky enough to finish almost 2,000 ranking behind the top-ranked player (6,725 compared to 4,765, according to the older points system).

Just to offer a little perspective…in 2005, the year Nadal won the French at age 19, he won TEN other events and it still wasn’t enough to grab the No. 1 ranking from Federer. #Fedal

Comparing that to Carlos Alcaraz’s 2022 season, there is no doubt that his predecessor had a much, much better run during his maiden Grand Slam-winning year. Only, Alcaraz was lucky enough to be born in a time period where there is no longer a single player-dominating proceedings.

In fact, his current points tally (6,740 points) is the lowest a player has needed to reach the World No. 1 spot since 2009. The previous lowest record was held by the player who held the position just before Alcaraz — Daniil Medvedev, with his haul of 6,885 points in August.

Had Alcaraz had a Federer to contend with, he would have met with a worse fate than his older compatriot.

Going by all metrics available, Nadal’s 2005 season is simply miles better than Carlos Alcaraz’s current 2022 season, World No. 1 or not.

Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee


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