PARIS – World number one Carlos Alcaraz heads into a Grand Slam as the top seed for the first time at the French Open, with the absence of holder Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic’s fitness struggles offering him the chance to win a second major and cement his number one status.
The French Open begins on Sunday.
The 20-year-old Spaniard missed the Australian Open after being sidelined for three months due to abdominal and hamstring injuries but he has been making up for lost time, winning in Buenos Aires on his return and taking two more claycourt titles in Barcelona and Madrid.
Alcaraz, who became the youngest world number one last year following his US Open triumph, leapfrogged Djokovic into top spot once again despite being stunned in the Rome third round by Hungarian qualifier Fabian Marozsan earlier this month.
Barring that blip, Indian Wells champion Alcaraz has been the player to beat on the circuit, with his athleticism and warrior spirit reminiscent of fellow Spaniard Nadal, who will skip Roland Garros this year due to injury.
Former French Open runner-up Alex Corretja said the absence of 14-times champion Nadal could place even more expectation on Alcaraz but he backed the youngster to deliver at the May 28-June 11 Grand Slam.
“All eyes will be on him and on Novak and all the other potential favourites but being Spanish and knowing that Rafa is not going to be there, all the attention is going to be on him on the men’s side,” Corretja told Eurosport.
“Knowing Alcaraz, he will be okay to deal with that, I’m sure. He loves that, which is amazing and very impressive, but he’ll need to cope with all the attention and everyone asking him about being the favourite and the next Spanish winner.
“Losing in Rome was the best thing that could have happened to him, because he will have lost a bit of expectation and relaxed a little bit.”
Unlike Alcaraz, Djokovic has the experience of winning the title on the red dirt of Paris having triumphed in 2016 and 2021 but the 22-times Grand Slam champion has not enjoyed a perfect build-up to the tournament.
The 36-year-old Serb pulled out of Madrid due to an elbow problem and was hampered by an unspecified physical issue in Rome before losing in the quarter-finals, slipping to third in the rankings following Daniil Medvedev’s triumph.
Former Roland Garros semi-finalist Tim Henman was eager to see Djokovic face Alcaraz in Paris.
“It would be an incredible match to watch,” he added according to Reuters.
“Djokovic’s standard is so high and we expect him to play brilliantly every day, but it’s not that easy. His career at this stage is about the majors but he’s been building up his timing and resilience for the Grand Slams.
“I’d put Alcaraz fractionally ahead of Djokovic, because he has played more tennis and had some good results on clay.”
Djokovic said the next generation’s growing impact on the tour was like a breath of fresh air and is well aware of the threat posed by Alcaraz.
“He’s been playing some impressive tennis, a great level,” Djokovic said in Rome. “He’s the player to beat on this surface, no doubt.”
Paula Badosa, meanwhile, will miss the French Open after suffering a stress fracture in her spine at the Italian Open last week, the former world number two said.
The 25-year-old Badosa, who was ranked second a year ago, has dropped to 29th amid an injury-ridden season. The Spaniard was knocked out in the quarter-finals in Rome.
“Just when everything seemed to be fine again, I received bad news just before starting a Grand Slam. At the tournament in Rome I suffered a stress fracture in my spine,” she said in a statement.
“It has been very hard news after such a difficult start of the season with injuries. This is going to keep me out of competition for some weeks.”
Badosa also missed the Australian Open in January due to a thigh injury sustained in a tune-up tournament in Adelaide.
For the first time since Iga Swiatek took over as the World No.1 on the WTA Tour, the top spot will be on the line when the French Open begins on May 28. Either Swiatek or No.2 Aryna Sabalenka will leave Paris with the No.1 ranking.
Swiatek will be spending her 61st and 62nd consecutive weeks at No.1 during Roland Garros. The 21-year-old from Poland is the defending champion. She captured her second title in Paris last year by defeating Coco Gauff in the final.
After successful title defenses this season at Doha and Stuttgart, as well as runner-up finishes at the WTA 1000 events in Dubai and Madrid, Swiatek comes into Paris with 8,940 points.
Sabalenka has been methodically narrowing the point difference. With three titles under her belt this season, including her inaugural major victory at the Australian Open in January and her first WTA 1000 title of the season at the Mutua Madrid Open earlier this month, she enters Paris with a total of 7,541 points.
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