It’s the kind of meteoric rise the sport needs and if he achieves what many are predicting – winning the Coupe des Mousquetaires on Parisian clay at 19 – he will make headlines around the world.

As the tennis elite usually descends on Paris for the second Grand Slam of the year, Rafael Nadal has been the dominant force in the men’s game, while the outcome for the women’s section has been unpredictable. There have been eight different winners over the past 10 years.

Alcaraz’s rise – from 141st in the world at the start of last year to sixth now – provides 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 – beating Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev en route to the title in his country’s capital.

Players past and present have praised the young Spaniard.

Justine Henine, four-time French Open champion, said in an interview with Belgian newspaper Sudinfo last week that Alcaraz was “more complete” than Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, while Zverev described him as the best player “of the world at the moment”. ”

“He’s definitely special,” Djokovic told reporters, while Nadal admitted his compatriot could beat anyone.

A new king for clay?

High praise leads to high expectations. But, of course, the behemoths stand in Alcaraz’s way of a first grand slam.

Nadal, the ‘King of Clay’, has been nearly unbeatable on red clay since winning the first of his 13 Roland Garos titles as a 19-year-old. There has not been a better clay court player in the history of the game.

But Nadal, who would claim a record 22nd major title with a win in Paris, is dealing with a foot injury and is more vulnerable than ever. Barring a late withdrawal, Nadal’s bid for a 14th French Open crown begins against Australian Jordan Thompson.

Djokovic is the defending champion and will aim to match Nadal in 21 Grand Slams. Despite all the attention at Alcaraz, the Serb is world number one and recently won his first title of the season, in Rome, to get in shape at the right time.

Others could also be in the running. Danill Medvedev is closing in on Djokovic’s world No. 1 spot, but the Russian has skipped the entire clay-court season so far. And ATP ‘Next Gen’ stars Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipasas are soon to start delivering on their promise at Grand Slams.

Taking the women’s clay court to another level

Swiatek poses with the winner's trophy after defeating Tunisia's Ons Jabeur to win the final of the WTA Rome Open women's tennis tournament on May 15, 2022.

Iga Swiatek’s form has made women’s tennis a bit 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 this millennium of 35 straight wins.

A victory in the French capital would 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 appearances this season, the 20-year-old Swiatek has dropped just one set. There hasn’t been such a pre-tournament favorite since, well, a fully fit Nadal.

“The pressure is constant,” Swiatek recently told reporters at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “It’s not like I analyze it every week because I’ll get pretty tired just doing that.”

The Polish star is doing all he can to prepare for the stress that inevitably comes with reaching the pinnacle of sport, traveling with psychologist Daria Abramowicz, who told PA Media: “We as a team, and obviously Iga she -even, have put in all the work to be able to properly handle success when it comes.

“Creating and managing a healthy and sustainable career these days, especially in the age of social media and mobile devices and other pressures, is something that is a big challenge for almost everyone in sport. high level.”

Swiatek has dropped one set in nine clay-court appearances this season.
Swiatek’s rise has helped soften the blow of losing the highly talented Ash Barty, who retired from the sport this year.

And Simona Halep, a former champion who loves clay, shouldn’t be dismissed either.

Twelve months after withdrawing from the tournament after being fined for failing to attend previous post-match press conferences, Naomi Osaka could feature in Paris. Although not ranked, the four-time major winner should not be ignored.

Like the ATP, the biggest names in the WTA haven’t been contenders lately. This could be the grand slam where the future of tennis becomes clearer.

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