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French Open 2024: Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner renew feisty rivalry hoping to give a taste of tennis’s future

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This week at the French Open, for just the third time in 20 years, none of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic got through to the quarterfinal of a Major.

The triumvirate have loomed so large over men’s tennis that tracking their progress, and any potential face offs, through to the final stages of Grand Slam tournaments had become a habit. But with Federer out, Nadal’s long, drawn-out attempts of another miracle in Paris crushed in the very first round, and Djokovic’s problems with his form compounding with a latest injury setback, curtains for the era they defined seem like they have all but come down.

Succession plans, however, often have a way of falling in place on their own.

On Friday, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner will take each other on for a place in the final at Roland Garros in the latest, most high-profile instalment of their flourishing young rivalry.

All through 2024, Sinner has been the player to beat at every tournament he has played, winning three titles including his maiden Major at the Australian Open, rewarded for his consistency with the World No. 1 ranking this coming Monday, irrespective of how the French Open plays out.

Even though Alcaraz already has two Majors and became the youngest ever World No. 1 as a teenager a few years ago, during the time Sinner made his rise, he has faced some uncertainty due to mounting physical problems. At his best, especially on clay, there are few that can keep up with him over five sets, but Alcaraz acknowledges that Sinner remains the player to beat presently.

Festive offer

“Well, you have to run like it is a marathon, side-to-side. I think he has nothing bad. Everything he does, he does it perfectly. I think it is the hardest thing to face Jannik,” Alcaraz said on court after his quarterfinal. But he’s relishing the challenge: “At the same time, I love these kind of matches. I love this kind of challenge. … I love to find solutions, to find a way to beat him.”

After completing their rise and keeping their place among tennis’ elite, both players come into the match having proved they are capable of dealing with the stress and pressure of these big moments. There had been doubts regarding both, with Alcaraz nursing a sore arm and Sinner dealing with a problem in his hip, ahead of the tournament. But the very best players map out their preparations to peak at the Majors, and the duo have certainly done so, marching through the draw with an inevitability of creating this face off, with the winner the odds-on favourite to win the title.

On-court chemistry

The ‘Big Three’ legend had not only been built on their relentless success, but also the rivalries they forged with each other, which leant a greater importance to each of their triumphs.

While it may be wholly premature to suggest that Sinner and Alcaraz will go on to have a rivalry like that, their current matches have built sufficient hype. In eight meetings, they have squarely won four each. There have been plenty of moments that have already gone into their highlight reels from those contests, and tight exciting matches have often resulted – especially during the quarterfinals of the 2022 US Open, a classic five-set thriller which saw Sinner within touching distance of the finish line before Alcaraz edged it on his way to a maiden Grand Slam title.

Their playing styles are, for the most part, complementary. Both are all court players with ferocious groundstrokes. Alcaraz has the superior forehand, Sinner has the better backhand. Sinner strikes the ball pure, generating more power and creating more acute angles – deceptively, given his lean, wiry frame – which allows him to dominate more from the baseline. But Alcaraz has the greater athleticism, and often counters Sinner’s ball-striking with finesse. His groundstrokes have subtle variety, he often steps into the baseline to attack, is comfortable at the net, and has one of the best drop shots in tennis.

Finer tactical points may also decide Friday’s contest. Part of why Alcaraz has struggled against Sinner is that the ball that comes off his racquet is so heavy that he hits through the Spaniard in baseline exchanges, especially crosscourt on his backhand. But on the slower red clay in Paris, Alcaraz will have the extra milliseconds to adjust and run around his backhand and take control with his forehand. It may well depend on how often, and how accurately, Sinner takes the riskier down-the-line option with his backhand to negate that.

At 22 and 21 respectively, Sinner and Alcaraz have emerged as potential greats of the game. At a transitional moment like this, the timing could hardly be more perfect for a heavyweight contest like this to prove that expectations are high for a reason.





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