At the conclusion of the French Open, which begins on Sunday, we could see rising star Carlos Alcaraz win his first Grand Slam at the same age – and the same venue – as his hero Rafael Nadal’s maiden major.
There’s a sense that the baton is changing hands in the world of men’s tennis. The glamour trio of world No1 Novak Djokovic, king of clay Rafael Nadal and sensational Roger Federer remain in the sport – albeit with less of a stranglehold – but, with the youngest of the three aged 34, a change will eventually come.
Enter 19-year-old Alcaraz from El Palmar in the south-east of Spain. The wide-smiled world No6 is on fire this season and is aiming to win the first major title of his career.
“I’m not afraid to say that I’m ready to win a Grand Slam,” he said this month.
“Physically I feel very well. I am mentally strong. I am a strong player and in the end that is what it takes to win a Grand Slam.”
Alcaraz goes into the French Open as the second favourite, behind Djokovic, despite all the players ranked above him also being in the draw.
The master on the surface, 13-time winner Nadal, has faced injury setbacks this year and, at 40, is no spring chicken – though he was older than both Djokovic and Federer when he won his last Grand Slam title.
So is it on the cards for fellow Spaniard Alcaraz? Well, the record books look good for the youngster this year.
He is the youngest player in ATP Tour history to beat three top-five players in the same tournament, he’s become just the sixth player in the Open Era to begin his career 5-0 in finals and he’s second only to Nadal as the youngest to win two ATP Masters 1000 titles.
Nadal’s compatriot is also the youngest player since the King of Clay to win five ATP Tour titles. But form going into a Grand Slam counts for little once you’re in the cauldron of one of the showpiece tournaments on the calendar.
There will be stiff competition and Alcaraz will tonight learn his potential route to the title.
Ranked No6, Alcaraz is likely to get a qualifier or wildcard in the opening round before his opponents, in theory, get progressively harder.
Favourite for the women’s competition, Iga Swiatek, won this tournament, too, as a teenager in 2020. She faced a draw which saw her avoid some of the favoured players throughout her run – so it is not uncommon. Britain’s Emma Raducanu won last year’s US Open without playing a top 10 player.
But with the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas all in the draw, it’s unlikely Alcaraz will be afforded the same fate this year.
Alcaraz and his favoured backhand will face an uphill battle if he’s to win in the Parisian suburbs across the next fortnight, but he has the attributes to compete.
His form is strong, with notable wins on the circuit this year, he has a coach – Juan Carlos Ferrero – who is a French Open winner, and he has the confidence to be at the top.
“I am a guy who is quite clear about things. I am clear about my goal, I am clear about my dream, which is to be No1 in the world and no matter how many tournaments come, no matter how many things come right now, I still haven’t managed to be No1,” he said. “It helps me to be with my feet on the soil to continue trying to fulfil my dreams.”
A French Open title would be the biggest moment of young Alcaraz’s career thus far. And in the seemingly shifting tennis landscape, there’s no reason why the teenager cannot aim to be the next king of clay.