Carlos Alcaraz stands in the way of Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros
With an ease on clay and a competitive fire that mirrored Nadal’s, Alcaraz toppled successively Spanish champion, world number one Novak Djokovic and third-placed Alexander Zverev to win the Madrid Open, his fourth title in the three last months. It was a Herculean feat, suggesting he possesses both the mental and physical clout to dethrone the king of clay at Roland Garros, where Nadal posts a 105-3 record, and all comers to claim a first Grand Slam title.
The prospect of a Nadal-Alcaraz Roland Garros clash, however, likely hinges on Nadal’s ability to get past defending champion Djokovic.
All three have been placed in the same half of the tournament draw, which is particularly bad news for Nadal, which means he will have to beat Djokovic in the quarter-finals and Alcaraz in the semi-finals, assuming that the first rounds go according to the classification, simply to contest his 14th career Roland Garros final.
If the subtext of this year’s French Open is an impending shift in hegemony at the top of men’s tennis, it’s one Nadal isn’t raging against but insists he accepts as normal in life and sports.
“First of all, he’s young, he’s new, and all the new things are much more interesting than the old ones, no doubt,” Nadal said recently of Alcaraz, who handed him a rare defeat on the clay courts of Madrid, where he was five times champion. “When you see a new car, it’s always more beautiful. When you see a new phone, it’s always more beautiful than the old one. It’s something normal in this life.
But that’s not the only story as the world’s best tennis players compete in the second major of the season.
The sport has rocked with controversy in recent months – from the WTA’s decision to pull all tournaments from China over still-unanswered questions about Peng Shuai’s safety and self-determination to Australia’s banishment of Djokovic ahead of the first Grand Slam of the Year due to his refusal to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The French Open, which kicks off on Sunday, will open its doors to a full spectrum of fans, media and players.
Unlike this year’s Australian Open, unvaccinated players, like Djokovic, are welcome.
And unlike Wimbledon, which follows in June, players from Russia and Belarus will be welcome despite Russia’s attack on Ukraine, provided they remain outwardly neutral and unaligned.
“There will be no flag, no sign. … There should be no mention of Russia or Belarus,” Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, director general of the French Tennis Federation, said this week when explaining the federation’s decision, which was announced in March. “It’s a fair position and the right one to hold.”
Sally Jenkins: Wimbledon ban on Russian players is unfair, personal – and absolutely right
In an unprecedented rebuke to Wimbledon for its decision to ban players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s tournament, the ATP and WTA, which govern men’s and women’s tennis respectively, announced on Friday that they will not would not award ranking points for player participation.
“The ability for players of any nationality to participate in tournaments based on merit and without discrimination is fundamental to the Tour,” the ATP said in a statement. “Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP ranking system. It is also inconsistent with our ranking agreement. no change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no choice but to remove the Wimbledon ATP Rankings points for 2022.”
World number 2 Daniil Medvedev and seventh-placed Andrey Rublev will be able to compete in Paris. The decision by the French Tennis Federation also paves the way for seventh-placed Aryna Sabalenka, former No.1 Victoria Azarenka and their fellow Belarusians to compete in the women’s event.
The women’s field has a clear favorite who is as precocious as Alcaraz in 20-year-old Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion who has been nearly untouchable during the 28-game winning streak she is leading at the first round.
For Djokovic, who turns 35 on Sunday, the French Open will be his first Grand Slam of the season – and his first since losing the 2021 US Open championship to Medvedev in straight sets.
Expelled from Australia after a failed legal challenge, Djokovic found himself, along with Roger Federer, one title behind Nadal in the tally of most Grand Slam titles in men’s history after Nadal was came back from a two-sets-to-zero deficit against Medvedev to claim his 21st.
Despite his usual lack of match play due to his vaccine position, Djokovic quickly found his form. He won the Italian Open title this month without conceding a set, claiming to be happy with his progress and at peace with the controversy in Australia.
“I always try to use these kinds of situations and adversity in my favor to motivate me for the next challenge,” Djokovic told reporters. “It’s something I’ve never faced before, so this pressure and everything I felt in the first few months of the year, as much as I felt pressure in my life and my career, it was something really on a whole other level. But I feel that’s already behind me. I feel good on the court. Mentally too. I’m fresh. I’m sharp.
The Grand Slams will test the 10-point tiebreaker in the final sets, starting with Roland-Garros
This year’s edition of Roland Garros is the first time Djokovic and Nadal have contested the same Grand Slam in 12 months, since Djokovic ousted Nadal in the semi-finals en route to the 2021 Roland-Garros title.
While Djokovic appears fit, there are questions about Nadal and Alcaraz’s fitness.
Although separated by 17 years, Nadal and Alcaraz share a similar build (both 6-foot-1; Nadal, at 187 pounds, is heavier) and bring similar physicality to their games, blasting groundstrokes with speed. discordant. They also share a competitive DNA, attacking every point as if it might be the last.
After his triumph in knocking out three of the then four best players in the world in Madrid, Alcaraz skipped the Italian Open to rest an ankle he injured in his match against Nadal.
And Nadal is struggling with a chronic foot injury that sidelined him for five months after an early-round loss at the Citi Open in Washington in August. He underwent surgery during the break but it did not ease the pain, Nadal recently revealed, and he will be accompanied by a doctor at Roland Garros as he continues to work on regaining his movement and balance. confidence in the field.
“My body is like an old machine,” Nadal said after the foot injury erupted in a third-round loss to Denis Shapovalov at the Italian Open. “Restarting this machine already takes time. It’s not the same when you’re 19 than when you’re almost 36, with all the problems I went through in my tennis career.