Twelve months ago, teenager Carlos Alcaraz necessary to qualify to make the main draw of the French Open. This year he is among the favorites to win the men’s section of the tournament.
His is a kind of lightning-fast ascent that craves sport, and if he achieves what many predict – winning the Coupes des Mousquetaires on Paris clay at 19 – it will make headlines around the world.
When the tennis elite usually descends to Paris for the second Grand Slam of the year, Rafael Nadal was the dominant force in the men’s game, while the outcome of the women’s group was unpredictable. There have been eight different winners over the past 10 years.
Alcaraz’s rise – from 141 in the world at the beginning of last year, to the sixth hour – offers a much-needed alternative narrative to men’s clay court.
The Spaniard has won four ATP titles this year – in Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Miami and Madrid – beating Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev on his way to the title in his country’s capital.
Players of the past and present have praised the young Spaniard.
Four-time French Open champion Justine Henine said in an interview with Belgian newspaper Sudinfo last week that Alcaraz was “more complete” than Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, while Zverev described him as the best player. ” to the world right now. ”
“He’s very special,” Djokovic told reporters, while Nadal admitted that his compatriot can beat anyone.
High praise leads to high expectations. But, of course, the giants thwarted Alcaraz in a first grand slam.
Nadal, the “Clay King”, has been almost unbeatable on clay since winning the first of his 13 titles at Roland Garos at the age of 19. There hasn’t been a better player on clay in his history of the game.
But Nadal, who will clinch a record 22nd title with victory in Paris, is suffering a foot injury and is more vulnerable than ever. Barring a late retirement, Nadal’s bid for the 14th Roland Garros crown begins against Australia’s Jordan Thompson.
Djokovic is the reigning champion and will aim to equalize with Nadal in 21 Grand Slam tournaments. Despite all the focus on Alcaraz, the Serbian is number one in the world and recently won his first title of the season, at Roma, to get in shape at the right time.
Others may also be in contention. Danill Medvedev is close to Djokovic’s world number 1, but the Russian has missed all season on clay to date. And ATP “Next Gen” stars, Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipasas, need to start delivering on their promise in the grand slams early.
Iga Swiatek’s form made women’s tennis a little more predictable.
The world number 1 has a 28-game winning streak and should she win a second French Open she will equal Venus Williams’ millennium record of 35 straight wins.
Victory in the French capital would also make the Pole the first woman to win six tournaments in a row since Justine Henin did so in 2007-08.
In her nine clay court games this season, 20-year-old Swiatek has only lost one set. There hasn’t been a pre-tournament favorite since, well, a perfectly fit Nadal.
“The pressure is constant,” Swiatek recently told reporters at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “It’s not like I analyze it every week because I’d get tired enough just doing it.”
The Polish star is doing her best to prepare for the stress that inevitably comes with reaching the pinnacle of sport by traveling with psychologist Daria Abramowicz, who told PA Media: “We as a team, and of course Iga herself, put all the effort into being able to properly manage success when it comes.
“Creating and managing a healthy and sustainable career nowadays, especially in the age of social media and mobile devices and other pressures, is something that is a great challenge for almost everyone in high performance sport.”
The rise of Swiatek helped to soften the blow of the loss of supreme talent Ash Barty, who retired from sport this year.
And not to be underestimated also Simona Halep, former champion passionate of clay.
Twelve months after her withdrawal from the tournament after being found for not attending previous post-match press conferences, Naomi Osaka may appear in Paris. Although she is not seeded, the four-time main winner shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Like the ATP, the biggest names in the WTA have not been contenders in recent times. This could be the Grand Slam where the future of tennis becomes clearer.