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French Open men's preview: Could Carlos Alcaraz win his first Grand Slam?

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Carlos Alcaraz.

That's the one name you need to know going into the French Open.

Alcaraz, who turned 19 on May 5, has won four titles on the ATP tour, more than anyone else this year. But it's his most recent title at the Madrid Open that made every head turn. On back-to-back days, Alcaraz beat his fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal, becoming the first teenager to ever beat Nadal on clay, and then beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, becoming the first player to ever beat both Nadal and Djokovic on clay in the same tournament. And in the final the very next day, he silenced Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-1 in just 62 minutes.

When Alcaraz burst onto the scene at the 2021 US Open, he was a talented youngster with a lot of promise. Just eight months later, he's already shed the "promising young player" mantle to become a legitimate threat, an explosive powerhouse whose long limbs and stunning control allow him to make returns that appear unhittable.

The rise of Alcaraz couldn't come at a better time, as the Big Three are beginning to wind down. Roger Federer is 40 and has barely played the last few years due to recurring knee injuries. Nadal is 35 and has looked exceptional at times, but has also struggled to stay healthy. The only member of the Big Three still dominating is Djokovic, who at 34 has shown no sign of slowing down. He likely has enough left in the tank to put up several more great years, but there are probably more great years in his past than his future.

Alcaraz's success signals loud and clear that he's the future of tennis. His win in Madrid vaulted him from No. 9 to No. 6 in the world, and he has the opportunity to cement himself as a top-tier competitor at the French Open. No one knows if he'll be able to accomplish that yet, but Alcaraz has all the right tools to make it happen.

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 08: Carlos Alcaraz of Spain poses for photographs with the trophy after his victory during the Men's Singles final match against Alexander Zverev of Germany at the day eleven of Mutua Madrid Open at La Caja Magica on May 08, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images)
The French Open could be where 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz wins his first Grand Slam and cements himself as a top-tier competitor. (Photo by Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images)

Players to watch

Novak Djokovic, ATP No. 1

After a short stay at the No. 2 spot, Djokovic is back at No. 1, though he's struggled to get back into top form after Australian immigration officials kicked him out of the country shortly before the Australian Open due to his unvaccinated status. His battle with Alcaraz at the Madrid Open was as close as it could be, but Djokovic couldn't capitalize on several opportunities to take control of the match.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, ATP No. 4

Tsitsipas' career stats for the last few years are dotted with trips to the finals and semifinals of Grand Slams and tournaments on the ATP tour. He came close to winning the French Open in 2021, putting up a good fight against Djokovic. This year, Tsitsipas has himself on a roll leading into the French Open. He won the Monte-Carlo Masters for the second year in a row, made it to the semis at the Miami Open and the finals of the Italian Open. That's a great way to start his 2022 Roland Garros revenge tour.

Rafael Nadal, ATP No. 5

Just a month ago it wasn't clear if the King of Clay would even be at Roland Garros. He sustained a rib fracture while playing at Indian Wells in March, which cost him a whole month and limited him to just 10 tournaments this year. But he's got one thing that no one else in the men's field has: a 2022 Grand Slam title. Nadal won the Australian Open in January, beating Medvedev in a stunning comeback. That was before his rib fracture, but it showed that the 35-year-old legend still has some juice despite years of tennis marching all over his body.

Carlos Alcaraz, ATP No. 6

Alcaraz is coming into the French Open on a roll, but now there's an injury concern. He twisted his ankle during his match against Nadal in Madrid, and though he went on to beat Nadal, Djokovic, and Zverev, he pulled out of the Italian Open with an ankle sprain. It's likely that he's just resting it so he can be at full strength at Roland Garros, but until we see him play, we just won't know.

Rafael Nadal in action during the Internazionali BNL D'Italia 2022 match between Rafael Nadal and Denis Shapovalov - Day Five on May 12, 2022 at Foro Italico in Rome, Italy. 


 (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal has been struggling with a rib injury, but the King of Clay is ready avenge his 2021 semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Other notable players

Daniil Medvedev

It's weird to have the world No. 2 in the notable players section, but for now, that's where he belongs. Medvedev has missed almost two months due to a hernia problem, last playing in March. He's been ramping back up and played at the Geneva Open (losing in the Round of 16), but that's his only tournament before the French Open. He's enormously talented and could bounce back quickly, but we'll have to wait and see.

Taylor Fritz

Fritz is the highest-ranked American on the ATP tour, coming in at No. 13. He's never made it farther than the third round at a Grand Slam, but his recent play shows he has a decent chance of making it farther at Roland Garros this year. He won his first ATP Masters title in early 2022 at Indian Wells, then went on deep runs at the Miami Open and the Monte-Carlo Masters. If he does well at the French Open, he could climb even closer to the Top 10 in the ATP rankings, or even break right through.

Notable absences

Andy Murray

Murray hadn't been planning to play any clay court tournaments this year, including the French Open, but there was a small sliver of hope that he might change his mind when he decided to play at the Madrid Open. He aced the first two rounds and was set to play Djokovic in the Round of 16 but was forced to withdraw due to a bout of food poisoning. If that was a sign from the tennis gods that he should stay off clay this year, Murray certainly followed it. He withdrew from Roland Garros, but is expected to return for the upcoming grass court season.

Gael Monfils

Monfils, a perennial crowd favorite (especially in his native France), recently announced that he and wife Elina Svitolina are expecting their first child. While she's likely done for the year, Monfils had been planning to compete at Roland Garros. However, he recently pulled out due to a heel injury and will be sadly absent from this year's tournament.