Escape from Alcaraz?
After his incredible rise, is there anyone who has what it takes to stop Carlos Alcaraz from winning his maiden Major title?
Never before have both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic been bested at a tennis tournament held on clay. That was before the 2022 Madrid Open when, on his way to glory, nineteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz beat the two all-time greats in three closely fought sets. Now with Roland Garros right around the corner, is it time for the youngster to cement himself in history as the new dominant force in men’s tennis?
Alcaraz is no doubt a future superstar. With power on both sides, good net play and a solid serve, with a beautifully disguised drop shot to boost, he will likely be the next powerhouse in the sport. Only time will tell whether he is ready to take up the mantle. His last performance at an Australian major saw him lose a narrow five-set match to Matteo Berrettini, (who has had to pull out of Roland Garros due to injuries) but since then the Spaniard has come on leaps and bounds winning in Rio, Barcelona, Miami and Madrid.
As the sixth seed, Alcaraz has landed himself in the harder of the two halves of the draw and may have to overcome his Madrid victims yet again if he is to emerge victoriously. Both Nadal and Djokovic are in Alcaraz’s half, but the silver lining for Alcaraz is that Djokovic and Nadal are in the same quarter, meaning he will only have to face one of them if he does indeed reach the semi-finals. Djokovic and Nadal will also have ample competition in their quarter with Felix Auger-Aliassime and Diego Schwartzman (a previous semi-finalist in France). In his quarter, the biggest threat to Alcaraz will be Alexander Zverez, but Alcaraz will be confident of beating Zverez after dispatching him 6-3 6-1 in the Madrid finals.
While it is difficult to look past the dominance of Nadal at Roland Garros (a previous thirteen-time winner), it is worth noting that he is coming off the back of a foot injury which hindered him in his loss to Dennis Shapovalov in the Italian Open. Djokovic will perhaps be Alcaraz’s biggest obstacle in the way to winning his maiden Grand Slam. The Serb will be desperate to catch Nadal in the rankings for the ‘most Grand Slams’ in history and become the first man to win three of every Grand Slam. In what will be Djokovic’s first Major tournament since his loss to Medvedev in the 2021 US open, he will be looking to assert his dominance back in the sport and quell the rise of a new tennis superstar.
The other half of the draw is far more open, with a whole host of names in with a chance of making the final. The highest seed is Daniil Medvedev, but the Russian often performs poorly on clay, having lost more times than he’s won on the surface. Stefano Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud will also hope to have good tournaments, with both players being clay-court specialists. Tsitsipas especially will be looking to go a step further than he did last year, having lost in five sets to Djokovic in the final. Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner will also hope to progress into the later rounds of the tournament, with Sinner hoping to spoil Alcaraz’s party as the next young gun to win a Major, although he is yet to win a tournament on clay.
In a tournament that has been dominated by Nadal for so many years, it is always hard to imagine him not being victorious, but Alcaraz is undoubtedly the form player heading into the tournament. It will be interesting to see whether Alcaraz can replace Nadal as the Spanish King in France.