Alcaraz to Kokkinakis: Five to watch in men's qualifying

Emerging talents and resurgent names are set to enter battle for main-draw berths in Paris this week.

Carlos Alcaraz, Madrid Open 2021, first roundAntoine Couvercelle/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Belarus' Ilya Ivashka leads the 128 men about to embark on qualifying for Roland-Garros from Monday.

There are 16 main draw spots up for grabs as the likes of former semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis and former world No.5 Tommy Robredo seek to rediscover past glories.

These are five standout names to look out for as qualifying action begins.

Carlos Alcaraz (ESP)

Only eight months ago, ample hype followed Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz to Paris, where he arrived to contest his first Grand Slam qualifying draw.

As the youngest Spaniard to have lifted a Challenger trophy since Rafael Nadal and with former world No.1 and 2003 Roland-Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in his corner, the then 17-year-old bowed out in his opening match. It was invaluable experience, regardless of result, in a season in which he cleaned up in 20 of 24 Challenger matches.


Now 18, Alcaraz has made healthy advances in 2021, including a first tour-level semi-final on home soil in Marbella last month, and winning a Masters 1000 match on debut in Madrid over Adrian Mannarino before facing Nadal for the first time. Brimming with confidence, despite defeat to his compatriot, he went on to win his first Challenger title of the season last week on clay in Oeiras, Portugal and with it a top-100 debut.

"To be able to get this title is something special,” Alcaraz told “It's the biggest moment of my career. I played at a high level all week, at a great tournament and against very good players. I think it's a great preparation for Roland-Garros [qualifying]. I'm just really happy."

Alcaraz commences his qualifying journey against Slovakian veteran Lukas Lacko.

Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS)

A litany of setbacks marred Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis’s recent seasons so there was no wiping the smile off his face when the 25-year-old took possession of his first Challenger trophy since 2018 on Saturday.

Ranked 69 in the world six years ago, much had been expected of the enigmatic Adelaide native since. There were fleeting glimpses of that promise – including a victory over Roger Federer at the 2018 Miami Open – but he played only four tour-level main draws in 2019 and none last year.


Fit and determined to work his way back via the Challenger tour, Kokkinakis was reassured he was headed in the right direction when he extended eventual semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in the second round of this year’s Australian Open.

“Matches like this are the reason why I believe I can still do it and why I have tried to come back so many times and keep giving myself a chance,” Kokkinakis said in the aftermath of that defeat. “If I can just keep getting in better shape physically and keep being able to play matches there is no reason I can't be where he is.”

Now he returns to Paris having claimed his past five matches en route to his fourth career Challenger title in Biella, Italy, his first on clay since 2015.

Kokkinakis faces a tricky opener in Roland-Garros qualifying as he squares off with ninth-seeded American Mackenzie McDonald.

Juan Manuel Cerundolo (ARG)

Three months ago, 19-year-old Juan Manuel Cerundolo took his place in the qualifying field of an ATP 250 event in his home country, Argentina, looking to join big brother Francisco, 22 in the Cordoba Open main draw. After winning three matches to book his berth, the 335th-ranked teenager went on an extraordinary tear to claim the trophy with eight straight match-wins on clay – the last four over top-100 opponents, all in three sets.

Earlier this month, he added a maiden Challenger trophy in Rome to arrive at Roland-Garros ranked No.146, only 30 places below his brother, who will join him in qualifying. Francisco almost matched his younger brother’s feat on home soil when he reached the Argentina Open final in Buenos Aires the following week before coming up short against compatriot Diego Schwartzman.

“The biggest thing I learned was to keep working hard to get back to that level and trusting in my team,” Juan Manuel told of his Cordoba title after triumphing in Rome. “I need to still work like this every day, because one tournament does not make a career.”

Juan Manuel will kickstart his Roland-Garros qualifying campaign against fellow Argentine Andrea Collarini.

Ilya Ivashka (BLR)

After rejoining compatriot Egor Gerasimov as the second Belarusian in the men’s top 100, 27-year-old Ilya Ivashka brings a career-best win to qualifying in Paris, where he starts as the top seed.

Back up to No.89 when the new rankings are released on Monday, the Minsk right-hander has struck form on clay leading in. After a dash to the quarter-finals in Marbella, Spain, Ivashka took a set off top seed Nadal in the round of 32 at the ATP 500 event in Barcelona.

It instilled further belief he could match it with the best and a week later he strung together five straight victories in Munich, winning through qualifying and claiming his biggest upset – over two-time defending champion and world No.6 Alexander Zverev – en route to the semi-finals. Jen-Lennard Struff brought that campaign to an end before he qualified again in Geneva and beat Fernando Verdasco in the first round.

He has now won 13 of his 17 matches on clay since April and has won at least two straight matches in his past four tour-level clay-court events. “I just came to play match after match,” Ivashka said after beating Zverev. “I knew that I had played well previous weeks… but I was not expecting [this run].”

Ivashka will take on 30-year-old Russian Andrey Kuznetsov in his Roland-Garros qualifying first round.

Taro Daniel (JPN)

When a lucky loser berth in the main draw of last month’s Serbia Open fell Taro Daniel’s way, the Japanese former world No.64 rode his second chance all the way to the semi-finals. After grinding out three-set wins over No.7 seed John Millman and Federico Delbonis back-to-back, the 28-year-old pushed world No.10 Matteo Berrettini to three sets before his run was halted.

Since reaching the second round at Roland-Garros for the second time in succession four years ago, Daniel has not featured in main draw action in Paris.

Now under the guidance of renowned Dutch coach Sven Groeneveld he enters qualifying on the back of another semi-final run on clay, this time in Oerias, Portugal, where he extended eventual champion Alcaraz to three sets. It was his first clay-court Challenger semi-final since Poznan, Poland, three years ago.

Daniel is seeded No.5 in Roland-Garros qualifying and opens his campaign against 39-year-old Italian Paolo Lorenzi.