Alcaraz revs up rhythm machine

The Spaniard says he doesn’t need many matches to hit his peak

Carlos Alcaraz, Media Day, Roland-Garros 2024©️Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

The clay-court season has turned out to be a cloud of worry for Carlos Alcaraz. Nagged by a right forearm injury for months, the Spaniard had to skip out on his title defence in Barcelona, then saw his run in Madrid cut short by Andrey Rublev while playing at less than 100 percent.

Three weeks later, after pulling out of the Rome Masters, Alcaraz has emerged in Paris with a positive mindset, even if the right forearm is still a question mark. 

“I'm feeling better,” Alcaraz told a crowded media room on Friday, sporting a relaxed posture and his trademark smile. “At least I can practise, hit balls without pain. That's a really good point for me.” 

Call it a step in the right direction, for one of the players whose name is frequently mentioned among the pre-tournament favourites. 

Playing with doubts

In Madrid, Alcaraz admitted that he was unwilling to hit his forehand at 100 percent due to the forearm, but he still played magnificently at times and reached the quarter-finals. 

“Every time that I'm hitting the forehand, I'm thinking about the forearm,” he admitted after falling to Rublev, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarter-finals on May 1st.  

Just over three weeks later, with two days left before main draw play begins at Roland-Garros, add Alcaraz’s name to the many mysteries in play in this year’s men’s singles draw. 

Defending champion Novak Djokovic has not reached an ATP final in 2024, and bowed out in the semi-finals on Friday in Geneva to Tomas Machac; Rafael Nadal has improved steadily over the course of the clay season, but the 14-time champion’s performance across events in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome demonstrates that he is not ready to devour the field as he once did in his prime; Jannik Sinner, the world No.2, has been out of action since pulling out of Madrid with a hip injury. 

Carlos Alcaraz 2024©️Clèment Mahoudeau / FFT

Perhaps the world No.3 will benefit from the chaos at play in Paris? 

“Right now I don’t see a clear favourite to win the tournament, but there is a wide range of players who can do it,” he said. 

Alcaraz’s first match will be against lucky loser J.J.Wolf, providing him with a good chance to dip his toes into the high intensity of the clay-court Grand Slam. Is he undercooked? Maybe, but he is still eager to bring his special brand of enthusiasm to Porte d’Auteuil. That’s why he’s here, and that’s why he’ll be dangerous against any player he faces during the fortnight. 

A chance to shine 

It all adds up to a less than ideal scenario for the two-time major champion, but it is a chance to shine on the big stage, something he has always yearned to do. 

“It’s Roland-Garros and it's a really special tournament,” Alcaraz said, when asked by a reporter why he chose to play while not 100 percent fit. “Everybody wants to do good results here. This tournament is one of the main reasons that I'm practicing every day. I want to be a better player, to be able to win these kinds of tournaments.”

Just two years ago, Alcaraz watched his idol Nadal play through an extreme foot injury that required regular injections to win his 14th Roland-Garros title. Perhaps he can take a page from the Nadal playbook and engineer an inspiring run of his own? 

He believes he can. 

“Honestly I came here to this tournament with not as many matches as I wanted, but I'm focusing on the practice,” he said. “I'm practicing well. I'm getting in rhythm. I'm getting confidence [from] the practice that is really important, and I think I don't need too many matches to get my 100 percent to get at my high level.

“I'm not feeling any pain in the practices when I step on the court. But I'm still thinking about it when I am hitting forehands. Probably I'm gonna say I'm a little bit scared about hitting every forehand 100 percent. So I have to change it in my first match.”