Among the alternatives that were barrunaban in the medium term when its end came or when it gave, as it has been, an inevitable step aside, there was not then the current number 1 in the world and maximum favorite to take over. The body of Rafael Nadal, the champion of 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022, as the speaker of Roland Garros recalled in the prologue of each of his matches, in a proclamation that added a title year after year, has said enough, and who comes like lightning to succeed him without a change of flag is called Carlos Alcaraz Garfia.

"Having won the tournament 14 times, Roland Garros is partnered with Rafa. Everyone will miss him. And the Spaniards even more. It is a pity that he is in this situation. I wish him a speedy recovery and, as he said, return at the end of the season and enjoy his last year in 2024, "says Juan Carlos Ferrero, coach of Alcaraz.

"Nadal is irreplaceable. No one in history has done in any tournament what he has done at Roland Garros. He leaves an empty space without anyone having taken him out of the place. It has not even begun its decline. Last year he won two Grand Slam titles," says Emilio Sánchez Vicario, former world number 7, winner of the 2008 Davis Cup as captain and now at the head of the academy that bears his name.

At the time of applying to take the baton, Alcaraz, who debuts this Monday against the Italian Flavio Cobolli, 259º, from the previous phase, endorses him, at age 20, turned on May 5, already have a Grand Slam title, the US Open achieved last September, when he was invested for the first time number 1, the youngest since the creation of the ranking in 1973. He is backed by ten titles, including four Masters 1000, two in Madrid, where he certified a remarkable tour of land, in which he also revalidated the title in Barcelona. It guarantees him not only to be the best, but to point out a considerable distance with anyone who dares to step along.

Hard to stop

"He is a very complete tennis player, with a lot of power. When he is able to deploy his entire repertoire it becomes difficult to play against him. He can be better than many on the circuit, but there are players who are going to stand up to him for a long time," warns Ferrero. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Holger Rune, Novak Djokovic and Jannik Sinner are the biggest opponents mentioned by the 2003 tournament champion. None of them lacks credit but none will break into Paris as on this occasion does Alcaraz, eliminated in the quarterfinals of 2022 by Alexander Zverev. "Winning Madrid and Barcelona as he has made him one of the favourites. It's not like other years, when Rafa was there and he came very well prepared. This year the tournament is more open and there are several players who can win," continues Ferrero. "Carlos is not going to be happy with the previous edition, when he was slow to wake up against Zverev, after two sets."

There is a sensitive transformation that the protagonist has been the first to highlight. Alcaraz admits that he is a completely different player from 2022, the course of his outburst, and with this he does not mean that he has modified his essence on the court, but that he interprets the game in a different way. "He reads the games a little better and enters the court more prepared. He is turning years, he is playing matches and living experiences that tanning him and make him grow. When you play important matches in major tournaments, you grow faster," says Ferrero.

The player from El Palmar is presented in Paris with 30 wins and three defeats in 2023, the last of them in the third round of Rome, against the Hungarian Fabian Marozsan, 135th, once guaranteed with his triumph in the debut against Albert Ramos-Viñolas open his third stage at the head of the world ranking. "It is never good to lose, but the truth is that rest has been good for all of us after what we had on the dirt tour," says the Valencian coach.

"What he projects is something spectacular," says Sánchez Vicario "Not only is the distance he marks in the game, but he also has capabilities that allow him to do everything, something extraordinarily pleasing for the spectator."

Djokovic's weight

Andrey Rublev won his first Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo and Daniil Medvedev won his first clay title in Rome. The cartography of the earth this season launches two champions in landmark events that in principle do not count too much to be crowned at Roland Garros. There is Novak Djokovic, double champion of the tournament and winner of 22 Grand Slam titles, the same as Nadal, who must be looked at with the utmost respect despite his weak balance in previous tournaments. "He's always going to be a candidate to win. There are not many people capable of achieving it in the best of five sets. Here it is always more difficult to defeat the good guys. He will be a stone in the draw and for sure he will make a great tournament. Sure," predicts Ferrero. Nole, seeded third, travels on the same side of the draw as Alcaraz. They are called to meet in the semifinals.

The Spaniard presents the slack of his triumphs in Barcelona and Madrid, with the immediate rebirth after the physical problems that prevented him from concluding 2022 and playing the Australian Open, the imprint and progression of his overwhelming game, to appear better than anyone on pole. It is a polished diamond. "See things more clearly. It has always been characterized by fast learning. When you get older, you interpret situations with your own eyes, "analyzes his coach. From the outside, it gives the impression that it may be in his own interior where his greatest adversary lives, that on some occasions, not too many, everything is said, it is still difficult for him to reconcile joy in his behavior with a defined pattern.

"Paradoxically, perhaps his greatest difficulty may be that he has too many weapons, handles many options, which at some point can confuse him," says Sánchez Vicario. "Even for such a creative and explosive tennis player, there always has to be order on the court. He's a very dynamic player, who tries a lot of things. When he manages to order his entire repertoire of strokes, which is almost always, is when he achieves results. As a coach I don't close the doors to anything. He has a certain style of play and tries to die with that style," explains Ferrero.

Generational grief

With an advantage on all fronts, it also dominates generational combat. Sinner and Rune follow in his footsteps, but they are still far from hunting him down. "If at the tennis level they can be relatively close, in terms of presence on court Alcaraz establishes a considerable difference in reactions and emotional management. Sinner creates difficulties for him and sometimes puts up with him, but lacks his aura. Rune emotionally is a time bomb and in seven matches to the best of five sets it is normal to explode sooner or later, "analyzes Sánchez Vicario, who believes that those capable of giving him greater battle can be among the already established tennis players, such as Djokovic and Zverev.

"Roland Garros takes you to the highest demands in all facets: tactics, technique, emotional. Just look at the difficulties of most tennis players in Madrid and Rome, extended to two weeks, and the best of three sets. In Paris, in addition, you play five, "he concludes.

  • tennis
  • Carlos Alcaraz
  • Rafa Nadal
  • Novak Djokovic

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