Alcaraz takes life at the top in his stride

The Spaniard enters uncharted territory as No.1 seed at a major

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland-Garros 2023, practice© Julien Crosnier/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

There comes a time when the incumbent ruler must front up to their first test as a marked name.

Carlos Alcaraz is about to find out just how that feels, new ground for the 20-year-old as top seed at a major.

For Roger Federer, it came in Paris 19 years ago and a third-round departure ensued.

For Rafael Nadal, he suffered a semi-final defeat at the 2008 US Open, while Novak Djokovic lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows three years later, his first taste of competing above the 127 names below.

Andy Murray succumbed in the fourth round at the 2017 Australian Open, Daniil Medvedev at the same stage of last year’s US Open.

“Well, for me, it's still crazy to see myself in top seed in a Grand Slam,” Alcaraz said on Friday ahead of an opener against Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli. “But for me, at same time is great. It is something that I work for to be there. Yeah, I'm really happy to be No.1 seed here in Roland-Garros.”

After missing the Australian Open due to injury, the Spaniard has scooped three trophies on clay since – Buenos Aires, Barcelona and Madrid – as well as Indian Wells over world No.2 Medvedev.

Following back-to-back triumphs on home soil, a raging hot Fabian Marozsan conjured the boilover in the round of 32 in Rome.


Alcaraz conceded it was just one of those days, unable to stem the flow against an opponent who couldn’t miss.

The early departure at least came with a silver lining. It afforded him a welcome reset ahead of his third Roland-Garros campaign.

His compatriot, Nadal, frequently resorted to casting a line or hitting the golf course when he found himself with extra time at home.

Balmy Mediterranean weather at this time of year played into those options.

Carlos Alcaraz, Media Day, Roland-Garros 2023 ©Pauline Ballet / FFT

“Well, I played golf one day,” Alcaraz grinned. “Of course, have time with friends, family. For me, doing nothing special, just spending time with them. Quality time at home is really helpful for me.”

Only 12 months ago, Alcaraz arrived brimming with confidence on the heels of a similarly dominant stretch, which included consecutive wins over Djokovic and Nadal en route to the Madrid trophy.

A maiden major title beckoned but a single-minded Alexander Zverev had other ideas and nullified the Spaniard’s threat in the quarter-finals.

It was a humbling defeat, a reminder of the gap he still needed to close if he was – to borrow a phrase from his esteemed countryman – to “fight for the biggest prizes”.

He did not have to wait long. Less than four months later that major title was his and with it the No.1 ranking, a position he has jostled with Djokovic to retain since.

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“Talking about tennis, I would say I'm the same player than last year, only change that I would say is that I'm more mature,” he said.

“Mentally I'm better and I can read what happened on court better than last year. For me, it's really, really important, and I would say it's the most different than last year.”

Roland-Garros in Paris 2024 is far from the young champion’s mind at this point but the added bonus of a double chance to compete on the hallowed dirt on double duty next year has already piqued his interest.

His Olympic tennis debut shaped as Nadal’s final shot at adding a medal to his haul.

“For me, it could be a dream playing doubles with him in the Olympics,” Alcaraz said. “So of course let's see. Let's see how he's doing and how he's going in this year. Hopefully, you know, he's going great. But yeah, for me it could be a dream.”

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland-Garros 2023, practice© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT