Carlos Alcaraz is set to enter a critical phase in his 2024 season, and winning will be top of the agenda.
Alcaraz recently exited the Australian Open in the quarterfinals stage at the hands of an in-form Alexander Zverev, who produced a supreme level of serving and baseline aggression to tame the Spaniard in four sets. Despite the disappointment, the Spaniard leaves Melbourne with a smile on his face.
The 20-year-old told reporters in the aftermath of that result that this was already an improvement from last year, which is a valid and true claim. In fact, this was Alcaraz's best achievement at Melbourne Park. He missed the event last year due to injury and had never scaled the third round in his previous two trips.
One of the most striking indicators of Zverev's pure ball striking, as highlighted by some journalists, was that he had played a significant number of matches in the build-up to the Australian Open and needed no time to settle and find his bearings.
By contrast, Alcaraz did not play in any warm-up tournaments except for a couple of exhibition matches. But that decision was preplanned even before 2024 after he announced a busy schedule for his off-season calendar that took him to three continents in December.
But between February and July, it is make or break for Alcaraz, who is defending a total of 6,675 points, which includes six titles, a runner-up finish, and two semifinal finishes from last year.
Having stood within sight of the No. 1 ranking at the Australian Open, Alcaraz now faces a possible threat to his current position of World No. 2, with Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner breathing down his neck.
Of concern for the 20-year-old is that it is now six months since he lifted an ATP title. He defeated Novak Djokovic to win Wimbledon last July and came close to beating the Serb again in Cincinnati final, but that is the last time he has competed in a championship match.