Carlos Alcaraz the firm favourite for French Open whether Rafael Nadal plays or not

Spanish star claimed the 10th title of his career at Madrid Masters and looks in unstoppable form ahead of Roland Garros

Carlos Alcaraz retained his Madrid Masters title by beating Jan-Lennard Struff in the final. EPA
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He only recently emerged from his teenage years and has only competed full time on the ATP Tour for less than three seasons, but the superlatives are already running low for Carlos Alcaraz.

The Spaniard, who turned 20 on Friday, added to his growing collection of trophies on Sunday, claiming a 10th title by successfully defending his Madrid Masters crown with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff, who made history as the first lucky loser to reach a Masters 1000 final.

After missing the start of the season and the Australian Open with a hamstring injury, Alcaraz looks very much back to the peak of his powers. Frighteningly for his rivals, given his age and potential, there is a strong sense that there is still much more to come.

A prodigious, generational Spanish talent, Alcaraz has inevitably drawn comparisons with the great Rafael Nadal, and he emulated his childhood idol by becoming only the second consecutive Madrid champion in the tournament's history. He is also the youngest player to successfully defend a Masters 1000 title since Nadal at Monte Carlo and Rome in 2005-06.

“For me it is so, so special,” Alcaraz said. “To lift the trophy here in Madrid. In my country. In front of my home crowd, my family, my friends. Everyone close to me. For me it is a special feeling that I will never forget.”

Alcaraz, who after winning his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open last September became the youngest world No 1 in ATP Tour history, is poised to reach the summit for the third time this week.

All he needs to do is play one match on his Rome Masters debut and he will move back to the top again, even if he loses in the first round.

“It's going to be my first time playing Rome. I really want to play there. I missed [it] last year, so this is a tournament that I looking for since I was kid,” said Alcaraz, who has won four of the six tournaments he's entered this year, including a successful defence of his Barcelona title the week before Madrid.

“I feel very proud of the work that I’ve put in and of what I’ve been achieving. I'm an ambitious guy and I’m going for more in Rome.”

Once Rome is done and dusted, it will soon be time for the big one and Alcaraz should be regarded as firm favourite for the French Open, regardless of Nadal's availability. The 22-time major champion has been sidelined with a hip injury since the Australian Open in January and it was announced last Friday that he would also skip the Rome Masters.

Nadal has long cemented himself as the king of Roland Garros, his record 14 titles and ridiculous 112–3 win-loss record on the Parisian clay testament to his dominance.

The 36-year-old Spaniard has overcome plenty of setbacks and obstacles to triumph in Paris in the past, but this latest lengthy layoff combined with the brilliance of Alcaraz could present his toughest ever French Open challenge.

Novak Djokovic will also have something to say, both in Rome and Paris. The world No 1 missed Madrid with a minor injury but will return in the Italian capital. He is the defending and six-time champion in Rome and will be determined to throw down his own gauntlet ahead of his bid for a third French Open crown.

Yet, even with the two greatest ever male players in the field, Alcaraz will still be the man to beat in Paris. His brand of fearless, fast, athletic tennis has taken the game in a new direction, accompanied by an unflappable and steely mentality that belies his age and relative lack of experience.

Whereas other players of his generation have often struggled in the biggest finals against the two giants of the modern game, Alcaraz would undoubtedly raise his level and thrive under the pressure. It would be no surprise if he quietly wants to face Nadal or Djokovic in the French Open final, just to enhance the occasion.

“I know I have an ability to play good in the important moments,” Alcaraz said. “I am a player who grows under pressure, on the big stage, and I like to do different things in those moments. To adapt to what my opponents bring to me.

“I am a finals' player: I played 13 finals and won 10.”

That just about says it all, really.

Updated: May 08, 2023, 1:23 PM