Swiatek and Alcaraz keep lighting it up

 - Alex Sharp

Elite players keep making their mark on the Road to Roland-Garros with champions breaking records and personal milestones at every turn.

Iga Swiatek / Roland-Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

It’s impossible to avoid getting swept up by the excitement surrounding the supreme talents of Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz.

This duo continues to lift trophies off the back of computer game tennis, drawing fans into the sport with their personalities, idiosyncrasies and capabilities.

Add into the mix Andrey Rublev completing his ‘Big Three’ collection and last week was a mesmerising mosaic of the very best.

Swiatek goes back-to-back-to-back-to-back

On Sunday night world No.1 Iga Swiatek posted on Instagram, “You know the best word for today? It’s JAZDA!”

The Polish colloquialism for “Let’s go!” was on the money after a polished 6-2, 6-2 victory over world No.4 Aryna Sabalenka in the Stuttgart final landed Swiatek a fourth successive title.

That’s 23 wins in a row (all posted in the last 62 days!), Swiatek sliding through the transition from hard to clay courts with consummate ease.

In doing so the 20-year-old matched Naomi Osaka’s winning streak of 2020-21, the ninth longest on the WTA since 2000, joining a pretty formidable roster.

“Pretty surreal, honestly. A few years ago, I wouldn’t even think about being in this kind of group,” said the Pole.

"For sure right now I need to work harder to keep this streak, but I’m just going to take it match by match, and I’m super proud of myself and really satisfied. These are the kind of players who were role models when I was growing up."

Swiatek’s dominant 28 straight sets was dissolved in a rock n’roll semi-final 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5 epic with Liudmila Samsonova – which at three hours, three minutes was the longest match of her career this far. Any obstacle is being managed and leapt over right now.

"Well, this is another tournament where I surprised myself," Swiatek added in Stuttgart, the first woman to win four successive titles since Serena Williams in 2013-14.

"That I don’t need to be 100 percent perfectly prepared or feel 100 percent to still play really good tennis and play solid matches.

“The transition (to clay) was pretty quick and I had a lot of doubts. I just didn’t want to really focus on that and I just focused on what I have influence on. This is another tournament that has shown me that I can do it no matter what."

Welcome to the Top 10 Carlos


Just like Swiatek, Carlos Alcaraz is a prodigy continuing to erase expectations.

Hailed champion in Barcelona, the 18-year-old captured his third trophy of the season to surge into the Top 10 for the very first time.

"It means a lot. I've watched this tournament since I was a kid. I always wished to play in this tournament and of course to be able to win this tournament," beamed the newly stated world No.9, joining his compatriots Rafael Nadal, Carlos Moya and coach Juan Carlos Ferrero as previous champions.

"I'm really, really happy to be part of this Spanish list.”

The teenager told reporters he was motivated by the soundtrack to the Rocky movie series and due to storms and disrupted schedules, the Miami Masters winner was forced to personify all his fighting qualities to lift the trophy aloft.

A three-set bout packed with tension and shot-making against Stefanos Tsitsipas set the tone. On Saturday the 18-year-old had to complete two matches and Alcaraz took it all in his stride, able to go 12 rounds, whatever the challenge in the ring.

First up, a near four-hour tussle with Alex de Minaur. The Spaniard saved two match points (one being a gobsmacking forehand pass, out of position, on the run and contorting his body to strike almost behind his body) to eventually prevail 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-4.

A few hours later and Alcaraz retuned to court to ping winners from here, there and everywhere going 6-3, 6-2 to topple his mentor and good friend Pablo Carreno Busta.

How about this for a stat. A fledging Nadal won Barcelona as an 18-year-old to surge into the Top 10 on April 25th, 2005. 17 seasons later and the latest Spanish sensation Alcaraz has made his Top 10 debut on the very same day, having lifted the Barcelona title on the court named ‘Pista Rafa Nadal’!

"I've always been a normal guy. I'm not scared of fame," insisted Alcaraz. "I'm not going to change the person I am. I'm happy to know that at 18-years-old I'm in the Top 10, and to do it the same age as my idol Rafa is impressive."

Remember Nadal won Roland-Garros 2005 following this pattern of Barcelona and hitting the Top 10. Surely not Carlos too…

“I don’t have any limits, I don’t want to set any. I have many options to continue climbing.”

Rublev completes ‘Big 3’ triumvirate


Joining Alcaraz on three titles in 2022 is Andrey Rublev.

The Russian defied home icon and world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the final of the Belgrade Open 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-0 on Sunday.

The reigning Roland-Garros champion Djokovic is still seeking match sharpness, his ruthless instincts to rekilter, but Rublev is firing on all cylinders, particularly on serve and forehand.

Even when Djokovic roared into a decider for his fourth straight encounter, Rublev unleashed his full repertoire, a promising sign for his legion of fans ahead of a trip to Paris.

Roger Federer (Cincinnati 2019), Nadal (Monte Carlo 2021) and now Novak, Rublev has achieved the ‘Big Three’ triple.

As for Djokovic, the 20-time Grand Slam winner is looking ahead after a fairly fruitful week on Serbian soil.

“I have to look at the positives, played the final in front of my home crowd," said Djokovic. "It was unfortunate that in the third set I ran out of gas and couldn’t give it more of a fight. Congrats to Andrey for playing another great week. He is at the top of the men’s game and one of the best players for a reason.”