Is Alcaraz no longer among the favourites for Roland Garros 2024?  

by Faizan Chaudhrey
alcaraz indian wells winner

Carlos Alcaraz has had a turbulent clay court season to say the least. After winning Indian Wells the Spaniards season looked to be back on track and with the clay swing around the corner expectations were high. I can only imagine Carlos had similar expectations of himself; so, to then have his body let him down as it has so far this year will be a big disappointment.

A large section of the tennis community were picking Carlos Alcaraz to be the favourite to win Roland Garros but as the clay court season has progressed the fever around the young star has quietened. Let’s dive into his clay court season so far and his prospects for the second grand slam of the year in Paris. 

Clay court season so far 

Carlos had entered several clay court tournaments but has only managed to play the one event so far. He pulled out of Monte Carlo with the persistent arm injury that has been so visible the last few weeks. The Spaniard has historically had bad luck with the Monaco tournament, he pulled out of the event in 2023 with an injury problem as well and has only played the 2022 edition where he lost to Sebastian Korda in his opening match.

Monte Carlo is the first clay court Master’s tournament of the clay swing and gives players a good platform to start adjusting to clay with its luxurious surroundings; a lot of the players are based in Monaco. The conditions are slow and relatively like Roland Garros. 

Alcaraz’s next stop was supposed to be Barcelona where he was the defending champion. The young superstar pulled out of the tournament citing the same arm injury; not an ideal start to the clay season! Next up was Madrid; Carlos was again the defending champion here. He was training in practice before the tournament with a strapped up arm but ended up playing. Clearly not at full fitness he fell to Andrey Rublev in 3 sets at the quarter final stage.  

The Mutua Madrid Open is the only preparation Alcaraz will have going into Roland Garros. He pulled out of Rome in the last few days with the arm injury that has been plaguing him. It is safe to say that his lead up to the second grand slam of the year has been less than ideal. Madrid is a clay court event yes, but the conditions are completely different to the French Open; the courts play faster due to the high altitude and low humidity.

Unlike Monte Carlo and Rome where the conditions are slow and more akin to those in Paris. It is no coincidence that Djokovic (6-time winner) and Nadal (10-time winner) have won Rome as many times as they have in their careers.

Italian Open perfect preparation for Roland Garros

Alcaraz, Italian Open 2023

The Italian Open provides players with an opportunity to peak on slow clay court conditions just before Roland Garros; it has been the perfect preparation for contenders with grand slam aspirations. It begs the questions, should Alcaraz have avoided the risk of playing Madrid and looked to play Rome as a priority? Yes, he had points to defend in Madrid as reigning champion but had a lot of points to gain in Rome after the shock loss to Marozsan last year in his second match.

The decision to play Madrid could be to do with the affinity he has with the tournament; not only as a 2-time champion but as a Spaniard playing in Spain. Either way if I was Carlos’ team, I would have marked Rome in the calendar as a must play over all other clay tournaments in the lead up to Roland Garros.  

I wonder if Alcaraz regrets playing Madrid; the absence in Rome now puts Alcaraz in the second bracket of favourites for the title in Paris. Djokovic and arguably Nadal (if fully fit) are in bracket one for me. Alcaraz joins Sinner (injured for Rome too), Tsitsipas, Zverev Ruud, Rublev and Ruud in a group of hopefuls to win their first Roland Garros title. I could see him having trouble with anyone I listed on clay at present.

I can’t see how anyone can now have Alcaraz as their favourite given the lack of matches in the lead up but it’s not all doom and gloom. Alcaraz had only a handful of matches on grass in his career going into Wimbledon 2023 and managed to clinch the title. He had won Queens in fairness, but bear in mind he has played four times as many matches on clay than grass.

The young Spanish superstar could get a favourable draw at Roland Garros being a top seed and the first few rounds will be crucial you would think. If he can get through the first three or four rounds unscathed and build up confidence and court time, then he could peak and challenge for the title.

The biggest question mark will be around his health. Can Alcaraz not only be fit enough to play but be fit enough to play unhindered over a fortnight?  

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