His sport is on the verge of skyrocketing and if he achieves what many are predicting – winning the Coupes des Mousquetaires on Parisian clay at the age of 19 – he will make headlines around the world.
Alcaraz’s rise from No. 141 in the world at the beginning of last year to No. 6 now offers a much-needed alternative to men’s clay court tennis.
The Spaniard has won four ATP titles this year – in Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Miami and Madrid – defeating Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev on his way to the title in his country’s capital.
Players past and present have been full of praise for the young Spaniard.
Four-time French Open champion Justine Henin told Belgian newspaper Sudinfo last week that Alcaraz was “more complete” than Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, with Zverev calling him the best player “in the world right now.” ”
“He’s definitely special,” Djokovic told reporters, with Nadal acknowledging that his compatriot can beat anyone.
The new king of clay?
High praise leads to high expectations. But of course, the hippos stand in Alcaraz’s path to the first Grand Slam.
Nadal, the “King of the Clay”, has been nearly unbeatable on red dirt since winning the first of his 13 Roland Garos titles at the age of 19. There has never been a better clay court player in the history of the game.
But Nadal, who will take a record 22nd major title in Paris, has recovered from a leg injury and is more vulnerable than ever. Barring a late withdrawal, Nadal’s bid for the 14th French Open crown starts against Australian Jordan Thompson.
Djokovic is the reigning champion and will aim to equal Nadal in 21 Grand Slams. Despite all the attention on Alcaraz, the Serb is world number one and recently won his first title of the season in Rome to get back in shape at the right time.
Others may be in contention too. Danill Medvedev is closing in on world No. 1 Djokovic, but the Russian has missed the entire clay court season to date. And ATP “Next Gen” stars Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipasas need to start making good on their promise at Grand Slams soon.
Women’s clay court takes it to the next level
Iga Swiatek’s form has made women’s tennis more predictable.
The world No. 1 is on a 28-match winning streak, and if she wins a second French Open, she will equal Venus Williams’ record of 35 consecutive wins this millennium.
The victory in the French capital will also make the Pole the first woman to win six tournaments in a row since Justine Henin in 2007-2008.
In her nine clay court matches this season, the 20-year-old Swiatek has lost just one set. Such a favorite before the tournament has not been since Nadal in full form.
“The pressure is always there,” Swiatek told reporters recently at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “It’s not like I analyze it every week, because I’d get really tired just doing it.”
“Creating and managing a healthy and sustainable career in this day and age, especially in the era of social media, mobile devices and other factors, is a major challenge for almost everyone involved in elite sports.”
Simona Halep, a former champion who loves clay, cannot be discounted either.
Just like in the ATP, the biggest names in the WTA haven’t competed in recent times. This could become a Grand Slam where the future of tennis is clear.