Clay slayer Nadal, Nole bid to derail Alcaraz hype at Roland Garros

All three have been placed in the top-half of the draw, meaning only one will make the Roland Garros final



Novak Djokovic greets a guest as he takes part in a training session ahead of the French Open. — AFP
Novak Djokovic greets a guest as he takes part in a training session ahead of the French Open. — AFP

By AFP

Published: Sun 22 May 2022, 12:19 AM

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, with 41 Grand Slam titles between them, will attempt to derail the growing hype surrounding teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz at the French Open from Sunday.

All three have been placed in the top-half of the draw, meaning only one will make the Roland Garros final.

Defending champion Djokovic is seeded to face 13-time winner Nadal in the quarterfinals. Alcaraz is a potential semifinal opponent.

“I feel I am always in contention to fight for any Grand Slam trophy,” said Djokovic.

“Reliving the memories from last year is something that obviously gives me goose bumps and motivation to try to replicate that.”

Djokovic has played only five tournaments in 2022 but arrives in Paris buoyed by a sixth Italian Open title, becoming just the fifth man to win 1,000 career matches in the process.

It was his 38th Masters triumph, two more than Nadal at the top of the all-time list.

Djokovic starts his French Open against 94th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan.

Nadal has played down concerns over the chronic foot issue that resurfaced in Rome last week.

Nadal began the year with a 20-match winning run, capturing a second Australian Open title to claim a record 21st Grand Slam and move ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer.

The 35-year-old’s record at the French Open stands at a staggering 105 wins and just three losses since his 2005 title-winning debut.

Nadal takes on Australia’s Jordan Thompson in the first round.

Alcaraz, just 19, has rocketed to six in the world on the back of four titles — three on clay — in 2022.

He won a second Masters title in Madrid, sweeping Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev on the way.

“He definitely is special,” admitted Djokovic of Alcaraz who also claimed the prestigious Miami Masters earlier in the year.

Alcaraz was ranked 97 this time last year.

He was only two when Nadal won the first of his 13 French Opens in 2005 but he made his mark at the 2021 tournament where he came through qualifying to reach the third round.

Alcaraz, who has 28 wins and just three defeats this year, opens his campaign on Sunday against Argentine lucky loser Juan Ignacio Londero, ranked at 141 but who made the last 16 in 2019.

Russian world number two Daniil Medvedev, who gave up a two-sets lead to lose to Nadal in the Australian Open final, only returned to action in Geneva this week after undergoing a hernia operation.

The US Open champion has 13 titles to his name but has yet to master the draining demands of clay.

At Roland Garros, he was winless in his first four visits before managing to stop the rot with a quarterfinal run in 2021.

Meanwhile, Iga Swiatek is the undeniable favourite for a second French Open title after winning her past five tournaments but says she won’t be “heartbroken” if her 28-match unbeaten run comes to an end at Roland Garros.

Since the shock retirement of world No.1 Ashleigh Barty, the 20-year-old Swiatek has swept aside all-comers and transformed herself into the player to beat in women’s tennis.

The Pole hasn’t lost since falling to another former Roland Garros champion, Jelena Ostapenko, in Dubai in February. Her winning streak is the longest on the WTA tour since Serena Williams won 34 matches in a row in 2013.

“I’m aware that this streak is something that may be coming to an end soon, so I don’t want to be like heartbroken when it’s going to happen,” said Swiatek, the 2020 French Open winner.

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the first Arab or African player to capture a WTA 1000 title with her victory in Madrid, has dreams of replicating her 2011 junior triumph on the Parisian clay.

Jabeur, 27, has made three clay finals this season — losing to Belinda Bencic in Charleston and Swiatek in Rome — and arrives at the French Open at a career-high ranking of sixth.


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