What will tennis do without Roger Federer? That’s an issue the sport will have to deal with over the next few years. This week, though, there was a more pressing version of the same question: What will Federer’s hometown tournament, the Swiss Indoors in Basel, do without him? As a kid, he was a ball boy at the event; as an adult, he reached the final 15 times, winning 10 titles. That includes the most recent edition, in 2019.

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, tennis returned to Basel on Monday, without the city’s most famous son. You might think that would have put a damper on the proceedings, but every seat was full for the first night session. They couldn’t see Federer, but they could see the next best thing in men’s tennis at the moment: Carlos Alcaraz, the new world No. 1 and US Open champion, who was kicking off his fall campaign against another fresh face, 20-year-old Jack Draper. Alcaraz cites Federer as a role model for his power-and-touch game, and the amped-up kids in the front rows in Basel were ready to see him pick up the baton from the Maestro.

Alcaraz was ready, too. Maybe a little too ready. He had played just one ATP Tour match in the six weeks since the Open, a somewhat lackluster defeat to David Goffin in Astana. That’s more than enough time on the sidelines for a 19-year-old, especially one who wants to show the world he belongs at No. 1. So he came out firing against Draper—and was broken in the third game of the match. Then, serving at 3-5, he was broken again for the set.

Alcaraz won 89 points to Draper's 87.

Alcaraz won 89 points to Draper's 87.


It was Draper, instead of Alcaraz, who wowed the crowd with his dive-bombing topspin forehands, his short-angle backhand passes, and his deftly disguised drop shots, all of which are usually specialties of the Spaniard. Alcaraz, meanwhile, sent easy second-serve returns long, and routine rally backhands wide.

“I did a lot of mistakes at the beginning,” Alcaraz said. “I wanted to play really, really aggressive on this court. For me this court is slower than the other tournaments.”

“I had to overcome my problems.”

As often happens in these situations, the higher-ranked player got back in the match with a little help from the lower-ranked player. In his opening service game of the second set, Draper shanked three forehands long and was broken. Now it was Alcaraz’s turn to show off his vaunted array of weapons. He drilled a down-the-line forehand past Draper to go up 3-0, and held at 5-2 with a volley winner, a forehand winner, a service winner, and a drop shot winner.

Alcaraz remained in command for the first seven games of the third as well. But Draper kept in touch on the scoreboard, and kept just enough pressure on Alcaraz to make him nervous. Serving at 4-3, the Spaniard couldn’t hold his nerve any longer, and he made three wild ground-stroke errors. Draper broke for 4-4, and held for 5-4. Suddenly, Alcaraz was serving to stay in the match.


If there’s a flaw in Alcaraz’s young game, it’s his tendency to overhit when he has a lead in a tight match. And that’s what he did today. Unlike most other players who that (very common) flaw, Alcaraz can shrug off those nerves and find his range again before all is lost. That’s also what he did today.

Down 0-15 at 4-5, he went on the attack again and won the last three games for a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory. The final game was vintage Alcaraz: On one match point, he tried an unnecessarily tricky touch volley and pushed it wide; but on the next match point, he made no mistake with a short forehand, zapping it into the corner for a winner. Alcaraz is a player who will create problems for himself, and then, as he says, overcome them.

“I had to be really, really focused and, of course, never give up,” he said, when he was asked how he turned the match around.

So far, so good for Alcaraz’s late-season run, which will culminate at the ATP Finals in Turin in mid-November. He’s not a player who will have trouble transitioning from one surface to the next. Will he have trouble being the favorite to win every match and tournament he plays, the way Basel’s former Maestro was for so long? We’ll have to wait and see. Alcaraz knows it will be different at the top.

“I have new goals,” he said. “I have to be prepared for the new challenges of the year.”