Semi-final preview: Alcaraz vs Sinner

Jannik Sinner, the new world No.1, against Carlos Alcaraz, a former world No.1, playing for a place in the Roland-Garros final. This rivalry could run and run

 - Alix Ramsay

On Tuesday, No.2 seed Jannik Sinner beat Grigor Dimitrov in their quarter-final. In his on-court interview the Italian was given the news by Fabrice Santoro that when the next rankings come out on Monday, Sinner will be world No.1.

All he could do was smile shyly (he is not given to huge outbursts of emotion). But it still meant the world to him.

The celebrations, though, had to be put on hold. There was still a great deal of work to do in Paris and the next job on the list was preparing to take on 21-year-old Carlos Alcaraz on Thursday.

He could not allow himself to think of himself as the best player on the planet; he needed to remind himself that he was taking on a man who has beaten him four times in eight meetings and who beat him in their last battle in Indian Wells this year. Jannik needed to focus.

Fortunately, focus is something that Sinner is good at. There was no great lightbulb moment for him, a sensational win or stunning performance that made him realise he could be a world beater. Instead, it was two disappointing losses that changed him.

The first was here last year in the second round. He was bundled out by Daniel Altmaier in five sets and he was not happy. A few months later, Alexander Zverev got him in the fourth round of the US Open, again in five sets. Something had to change.

Jannik Sinner, Roland-Garros 2024, Simple Messieurs, 1/4 de Finale©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“I think I've learned a lot from the losses, especially the one here,” he said. “There are some moments where you have to realise what you have done wrong and sometimes it's tough to accept, but this is the right way.”

Since then, he has become the Australian Open champion (beating Daniil Medvedev from two sets down) and only lost his first match of the year in March (that defeat to Alcaraz). It was the first of only two defeats this season. 

Alcaraz knows what he is up against. He describes Sinner as the biggest challenge in the sport, saying: “Everything he does, he does it perfectly.”

But Alcaraz is the Wimbledon champion and a former US Open champion. Had he not been felled by nerves in the semi-finals here last year, he could well have beaten Novak Djokovic to reach the final.

They are the two, young superstars of the present who look set to dominate the future. It all begins today.