The French Open is just around the corner and after falling at the semi-final stage last year, everyone is waiting to see how the legendary all-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal fares in the tournament that he has dominated over the last 17 years.
After a majestic start to 2022, where he became the Australian Open champion after defeating Daniil Medvedev, the Spaniard moved one Grand Slam title clear of the fellow greats of this generation, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. His momentum has been hindered since, however.
He was defeated in the Madrid Open by compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, the eventual winner of the tournament, and Nadal was seen limping after, admitting that his injuries leave him in constant pain. This leaves a black cloud over his bid for a record-extending 14th title at Roland Garros later this month but there is a strong chance the victor could be Spanish.
After beating Nadal over three sets, Alcaraz continued to impress on the clay court in Madrid by then defeating world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the final before clinching his second Masters 1000 title with a victory over world No. 3 Alexander Zverev in the final on Sunday - breezing past the German in straight sets. He has now won four tournaments this year and his career total now stands at five with his first coming last year. Alcaraz seems destined to go to the very top and it doesn’t seem like a first Grand Slam title could be too far away.
Speaking after being crowned champion, Alcaraz said: “This tournament is special for me because it’s a tournament I came and watched when I was seven or eight.
“It feels great to be able to beat these players. To beat two of the best players in history and then Zverev, the world No. 3. He is a great player. I would say this is the best week of my life.”
The 19-year-old has demonstrated that he can adapt his game to different surfaces and for someone still at such a young age in his professional career his ceiling is high.
He became the youngest winner of the Madrid Open and the second-youngest to win two Masters 1000 tournaments after Nadal, who won in Monte Carlo and Rome in 2005. Alcaraz had already become the youngest player to reach the top 10 rankings since Nadal in 2005. His straight sets victory over the German in Sunday’s showpiece was his seventh straight win over a top 10 player and he now boasts the most wins on tour this season with 28.
He showcased his astonishing raw talent against the two legends before stopping Zverev who had been the Madrid Open champion twice before. Alcaraz’s recent surge will have certainly grabbed the attention of all those on the professional circuit, if he hadn’t already after Miami. And Zverev even went as far as to label him the best player in the world at this moment in time, and after his scintillating performances on home soil, it’s hard to argue.
With the spectacle of the clay court season at Roland Garros fast-approaching, Alcaraz will be heading into Paris as one of the favourites and what is perhaps even more interesting, he could be seeded higher than the French Open’s master, Nadal. Alcaraz has moved up to sixth in the ATP rankings while Nadal currently occupies fourth, but should Nadal suffer an early exit in Rome Masters, there is a strong chance that he will head into Roland Garros ranked lower than Alcaraz.
Perhaps it is just another step toward the golden generation’s inevitable departure from tennis and Alcaraz is one of the many rising stars waiting in the wings to take their place to establish a new era. It may not be as majestic as the one we have been blessed to witness over the last 20 years but it will certainly be as ferociously competitive.
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