RECORD champion Rafael Nadal is locked in an all-time Grand Slam battle with world number one Novak Djokovic going into the French Open but both could end up being upstaged by teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz.
Nadal, a 13-time title-winner on the Parisian red clay, is far from his unstoppable best as he nurses a chronic foot injury that flared up again in the buildup to Roland Garros.
The Australian Open champion suffered early exits in Madrid and Rome with his most recent tournament win back in February.
Counting out the wounded 35-year-old Spaniard, however, comes with a risk warning as his comeback win from two sets down over Russia’s Daniil Medvedev at this year’s Australian Open final proved.
Nadal’s astounding triumph meant he became the first male player to reach 21 Grand Slam titles, pulling ahead of Roger Federer and Djokovic on the all-time list.
Djokovic, who had missed the Australian Open following his refusal to be vaccinated for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and his subsequent deportation amid a media frenzy, is desperate to win in Paris and pull level with Nadal’s major haul.
The Serb, who also turns 35 later this week, appears to be back on track after his turbulent start to the year, clinching the title in Rome last week with a straight sets win over Greek world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Djokovic is also no stranger to comebacks on the big stage, winning the title in Paris last year after battling from two sets down to outlast Tsitsipas.
The Greek, who thrives on this surface having won his last three titles on clay, has long been tipped as a Grand Slam winner and came agonisingly close last year.
But he will also be looking over his shoulder at the 19-year-old Alcaraz who looks set to jump the queue.
The teenager has taken the tennis world by storm this year with four titles, including in Miami and Madrid, and will arrive in Paris established as one of the title favorites.
The big-smiling Spaniard, a qualifier only 12 months ago, may look stunned by his progress this year but he shows no signs or interest of slowing down as he storms up the world rankings.
“Yes, I am ready to win a Grand Slam and to go for it,” the world number six said, who beat both Nadal and Djokovic en route to the Madrid title earlier in May.
“It is a goal for me this year, to try to get my first Grand Slam. Let’s see what is going to happen at Roland Garros.” — Reuters