Rafa Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz after their game in the Madrid Open earlier this month. / EFE

Spain's Rafa Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz have the French Open title in their sights

The second Grand Slam of the year will measure the uncertainty around the Mallorcan and the maturity of the Murcian, as Djokovic looms on the horizon

ENRIC GARDINER

In the context of tennis, Paris has gone back in time to 2005. That year, a young, 19-year-old Rafa Nadal debuted in the French Open and eventually won the tournament by beating Mariano Puerta in the final. That young man, who had beaten world number one Roger Federer, began a dominant dynasty that is still relevant today.

The feeling is very similar to what can be felt today. A young, 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz arrives in Paris eager to test in what state world tennis is in.

The young Murcian will battle it out with Nadal and Novak Djokovic in what is expected to be one of the most interesting French Opens in recent years. It is unclear which of the three is the favourite to win, especially as the Mallorcan and the Serbian could face each other in a later round.

Return of the king

Nadal's thirteen record-breaking French Open titles more than justify placing him as favourite to win the tournament, but his fitness is still in doubt, as he fractured his ribs in March after winning 20 matches on the bounce.

The Mallorcan will play his first match today against Australian Jordan Thompson, a seemingly "easy" tie. Nadal would then play Stan Wawrinka in the second round, Botic van de Zandschulp in the third and Felix Augier-Aliassime in the round of 16, before things get more complicated.

Because he was fifth seed, Nadal has been placed into the harder part of the draw. He'd then have to face Djokovic in the quarter-final, Alcaraz or Alexander Zverev in the semi-final and either Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

All these high-ranking players make Nadal's road to a fourteenth French Open title all the more complicated, especially when his younger compatriot is on the rise.

High hopes for Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz is looking to take the next step in his career and cement his place among the top-tier tennis players. In order to do that, the Murcian must win his first Grand Slam title, a feat that has eluded him so far.

His 2022 has got off to a flying start, with four tournament wins, including two Masters in Miami and Madrid.

After casually defeating Juan Ignacio Londero in straight sets on Sunday, Alcaraz will next face Albert Ramos on Wednesay in the second round. The draw for the tournament means that the youngster would face Sebastian Korda in the third round, Cameron Norrie in the round of 16, Zverev in the quarter-final, Djokovic or Nadal in the semi-final and against Medvedev or Tsitsipas in the final.