Carlos Alcaraz had just beaten Alexander Zverev in straight sets to reach the US Open semi-finals when the Spanish tennis prodigy produced a celebration already familiar to many football fans.
The 20-year-old stretched out his arms and looked up to the stands of Arthur Ashe Stadium, later posting the photo on social media with the caption: “Hey Jude!”.
— Carlos Alcaraz (@carlosalcaraz) September 7, 2023
It was a nod towards Jude Bellingham, another 20-year-old sportsman taking Spain by storm. Since joining Real Madrid from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €103million (£88.5m; $110.3m) this summer, the England international has scored five goals in four games for his new side. He has established himself as an instant fans’ favourite in the process — and world No 1 Alcaraz is one of those fans.
Bellingham soon responded to that post from Alcaraz. “What a machine!” he wrote in Spanish, followed by “Keep going mate” and a trophy emoji.
Keep going mate.🏆 https://t.co/PaCH14fIjD
— Jude Bellingham (@BellinghamJude) September 7, 2023
It is no secret that Alcaraz, who won Wimbledon this year to add to his US Open title last year, is a Madridista. Despite being born in El Palmar, a village in the south-eastern Spanish region of Murcia, he has said he is a “Real Madrid fanatic” and the club have regularly shown their support for him on social media. He is often invited to matches at the Santiago Bernabeu and was present as a guest of honour for the celebrations of Real’s 35th La Liga title in 2022 along with Rafael Nadal, who is another self-confessed Los Blancos fan.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) April 30, 2022
Earlier this year, Real players Vinicius Junior, Federico Valverde, Dani Ceballos and Rodrygo all attended Alcaraz’s Madrid Open match against Grigor Dimitrov. “I still get nervous, I’m not going to lie,” Alcaraz said afterwards. “Seeing giants like them in the stands… I’m so happy that they would come to see my match.”
— #MMOPEN (@MutuaMadridOpen) April 30, 2023
Last month, Alcaraz told a press conference at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Toronto that “every Madridista wants to see (Kylian) Mbappe in Madrid” when it appeared as if they might reignite their long-running pursuit of the Paris Saint-Germain forward. He was also asked about his tribute to Bellingham after his victory over Zverev, where he revealed that he had already spoken with the Englishman.
“He’s such a great, talented player — one of the best in the world — and I’m sure that he’s going to be the best player in the world in that position,” Alcaraz said. “I’m just really, really happy to have him in the team. I talk a little bit with him and he’s such a great person as well, so he’s a complete guy.”
Bellingham’s celebration, where he stretches his arm out in front of fans, dates back to his time at Birmingham City and has been in regular use this season. It caused some controversy after his debut goal against Athletic Bilbao when Iker Muniain was seen wagging his finger at Bellingham in the aftermath, but otherwise, he has encountered few problems in La Liga. Madrid fans sang the Beatles track Hey Jude in recognition of their star player after he scored a 95th-minute winner on his first Bernabeu outing on Saturday — just as fans did at Birmingham and Dortmund.
Iker Muniain telling Jude Bellingham he should not do his celebration… pic.twitter.com/bBOa6r4Hjm
— Madrid Zone (@theMadridZone) August 12, 2023
“When they sang Hey Jude at the end, I got goosebumps,” Bellingham said. “I just wanted to turn and stand still and listen to it while my legs were shaking.”
The Englishman has helped fans forget about the departure of second all-time top scorer Karim Benzema by playing in a more advanced role and has impressed his manager, team-mates and pundits with his maturity and poise. It also helps that he is learning Spanish and has embraced the culture around the club — something Madrid fans saw little evidence of from their last British recruit, Gareth Bale.
“Bellingham is exceptional,” head coach Carlo Ancelotti said after the midfielder’s debut at Athletic Bilbao. “He’s a player who has a lot of personality, that’s why he adapts so quickly to the team’s system. It seems as if he’s been with us for a long time — he’s a player of a very, very high level.”
Madrid fans will have to wait until September 17 to see Bellingham in action again, when Ancelotti’s side take on Real Sociedad at the Bernabeu, but the midfielder has been named in Gareth Southgate’s squad for England’s European Championship qualifier against Ukraine tomorrow (Saturday) and their friendly against Scotland on Tuesday.
Alcaraz, meanwhile, will hope to reach his second successive US Open final when he faces Russian Daniil Medvedev on Saturday. Don’t be surprised to see a repeat of the Bellingham celebration if he does it.
(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)