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French Open: Carlos Alcaraz’s wins of change blow towards Paris


From afar, there’s nothing flashy about Carlos Alcaraz Garfia. There’s no bandana or baseball cap, no visible jewellery. There’s no flowing mane either – just a simple crew cut. A wrist band on his playing right arm is the only accessory he sports when on court. And a big, endearing smile. But it all changes when a point starts. Alcaraz is quick on his feet and seems to work on perennial batteries. He gallops left and right, and then back again, chasing down balls and sending them over the net with interest. He’s equipped for the slugfests, but that rarely happens when he’s around. He’ll throw in a perfectly weighted and disguised drop-shot that the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic too were devastated by recently. He’ll come up to serve and volley and pay homage to long considered dying art. And then he’ll hammer in ground stroke winners when grace and subtlety open up doors to finish the point. The simplest way to describe his game style, perhaps as simple as his on-court attire, is that he’s an all-court player. Yet that description works in a less poetic vein. It doesn’t do him justice. Alcaraz, who turned 19 just a few weeks back, has captured the attention of the tennis world. And his recent exploits that saw him crack the Top 10 and become the new World No 6 sees him considered as a strong favourite to win the French Open. Only the staunchest minds will be able to keep his name away from coming up when there’s a tennis related conversation. Djokovic recently called him “the talk of the sport.” And the stats show why. Data check: Carlos Alcaraz’s historic back-to-back wins against Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic Within days of him turning 19, he beat Nadal and Djokovic at the Madrid Masters to become the 11th player to achieve the feat, the youngest to have ever done so, the fifth to have done it on consecutive days, and the only one to have done it in a clay court event. Soon after that, he beat World No 3 Alexander Zverev to claim the title – his second ATP 1000 event triumph – to become the youngest player in ATP Tour history (since 1990) to have beaten three Top 5 players at the same event. The second youngest is Djokovic, who was 20 when he beat then World No 3 Andy Roddick, No 2 Nadal and No 1 Roger Federer to win the Canadian Masters in 2007. 🚨 Stat alert 🚨 Carlos Alcaraz becomes the youngest man to defeat the World No. 1 ranked player since… …Rafael Nadal celebrated his 19th birthday by beating then-No. 1 Roger Federer in the 2005 Roland Garros semi-finals — The Field (@thefield_in) May 7, 2022 He’s also the youngest player since Nadal in 2005 to break into the Top 10. Yet the statistics, too, keep his achievements rather simple. He won the Barcelona Open, an ATP 500 event, to become the new World No 9. But beating Nadal, on clay, was something not many would have bet on. ‘Not many,’ but definitely not nobody at all. He hassled and harried the winner of 21 Grand Slam champions in the quarterfinal at the La Caja Magica – translated as ‘The Magic Box.’ It was only a twisted ankle early in the second set that allowed Nadal back into the contest, only for Alcaraz to find his feet again and turn the screws to finish the match – with a looping, curling, forehand winner. A day later he faced Djokovic for the first time in his career. The world knows the Serbian as a defensive baseliner, a chaser of lost hopes who will deliver when the odds are stacked against him. Alcaraz would put that to the test. He’d play drop shots, he’d come up to volley, he’d play inside-in and inside-out forehand winners. And he’d run after shots just as much as the World No 1, finishing the match with a cracking forehand down the line winner. In the final he played Zverev, a strapping German who stands at 6-foot-6 and possesses a powerful serve that – due to Madrid’s altitude – jumps up uncomfortably for opponents. Alcaraz though, is a big server himself. But he was content with raining down those devastating kick-serves that zipped and jumped off the surface. He knows he’s good, but he wants to get better. “I consider myself a player that’s playing very well. As the numbers speak by themselves, I think that I’m doing it quite well on clay right now, I think that I am a tough opponent for the other players,” he said after his win in the Spanish capital. “I think that I have to improve everything still. I have always said that you can improve everything. You never reach a limit. That’s what I want to do. I want to keep on progressing. I have really good shots. I don’t say that I don’t have them, but I know that I can improve them and they can be even better.” It’s scary – for opponents – to think what can happen if he does improve. Madrid was the last event he’d play before turning his attention to Paris. 2021 👉 main draw debutant 2022 👉 serious title contender The meteoric rise of @alcarazcarlos03 📈 #RolandGarros — Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 16, 2022 For years, tennis aficionados have searched and debated about who will be the ones from the ATP’s fabled Next Gen to take over from the Big 3. Zverev was the frontrunner for a while, before Dominic Thiem became the first among them to win a Grand Slam title and was followed by Daniil Medvedev – both at the US Open. Stefanos Tsitsipas was later a set-away from winning the French Open last year, only for Djokovic to make a stunning comeback win. Now a new name has thrown his hat into the ring. Alcaraz, the youngest of them all. So far his career has followed the symmetry that follows the romantic trend of him being the next Nadal. He’s Spanish, just like Nadal, won the Spanish Open to break into the Top 10 for the first time, just like Nadal. And now the French Open beckons. Nadal and Djokovic still a threat No matter how many new names come in, it’s still Nadal and Djokovic carrying the baton forward from the older guard. And when it comes to a Grand Slam, there’s simply no ruling them out. Nadal, a 13-time winner at Roland Garros, has been suffering with a foot problem. But he knows how to find his form at the right time. Djokovic meanwhile, after a delayed start to the year due to his unvaccinated status not allowing him to compete at the Australian Open and the Indian Wells and Miami Masters, was lacking match practice. But his recent win at the Rome Masters hints that he’s back in the groove. He’ll be eager to make his mark as he defends his French Open crown. In a cruel twist, the French Open draw has Nadal, Djokovic and Alcaraz placed in the same half. Nadal and Djokovic can face each other in the quarterfinals, and the winner could face Alcaraz in the semi-finals. But the year’s second Grand Slam is not just about the two veterans and the daring youngster. There’s also the likes of – but not limited to – Tsitsipas and Zverev looking to cause an upset. There are the clay-court specialists like Casper Ruud and Diego Schwartzman. There’s Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner too, who have proven to be big-match players. And of course, there is the one they’ve all been talking about. Alcaraz.

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