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French Open epic: New Spanish ‘King of Clay’

Carlos Alcaraz becomes French Open Champ

Source: Roland-Garros / X

Make some room Rafa — there’s a new Spanish ‘King of Clay’ on the Roland Garros throne now.

The incredible Carlos Alcaraz is the new Chatrier royalty, achieving another tennis milestone at the tender age of just 21, outlasting Alexander Zverev over five exhausting, absorbing sets to become French Open men’s singles champion on Sunday.

The young Spaniard proved too strong, too aggressive and was ultimately infused with too much self-belief for even the battling Zverev to cope with as he fought back to down the German Olympic champion 6-3 2-6 5-7 6-1 6-2 in a final full of see-sawing drama over four hours 19 minutes.

Alcaraz-win

Carlos Alcaraz threw himself on to the Roland Garros clay in joy. Photo: AAP

Alcaraz now has three grand slams to his name, after his Wimbledon title last year and his US Open triumph in 2022, keeping up his perfect record in major finals.

So the tournament that began with the 14-time champion Nadal being knocked out by Zverev in the opening round has ended with the symmetry of Alcaraz, on a sunny but breezy day on Court Philippe Chatrier, defeating his conqueror to become the eighth Spanish men’s winner.

At the post-match ceremony, the 27-year-old Zverev, still searching for that elusive first slam, looked at the new champ and marvelled: “It’s incredible, you won three different ones, you’re already a hall-of-famer, you’ve achieved so much already and you’re only 21.”

Indeed. Anything now seems possible for Alcaraz, who has now eclipsed Nadal as the youngest man ever to win slams on three surfaces. His great predecessor was about 18 months older when he did the treble.

Yet what may yet prove most discouraging to all Alcaraz’s rivals is how the youngster, who’ll move back to No.2 in the world next week, emerged even stronger when seemingly in a world of trouble as a 5-2 lead in the third set disappeared only for Zverev to take apparent control.

You see, he has heart as well as stupendous talent; there’s no escape from Alcaraz.

The Spaniard was rewarded for only being ever bolder and more attacking as he joined Nadal as the only men to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires at the age of 22 or under.

Altogether he hit 52 winners to Zverev’s 38, while also making more unforced errors, 56 to the German’s 41. That told the story of Alcaraz being the more determined to gamble, to go for broke.

There’s an added X-factor in Alcaraz’s game, the blinding moments of shotmaking genius on show occasionally on Sunday that set him apart, that put him even ahead of the game’s new world No.1 Jannik Sinner as the most exciting player in the game.

He also possesses rare depths of self-belief, and his post-match revelations about how difficult the past couple of months have been for him with his racquet forearm injury woes gave an inkling of why he felt so particularly proud of this fightback.

“My team has done incredible work the last month. We were struggling a lot with injuries, and coming back to Madrid, I didn’t feel well,” Alcaraz explained.

“I’m really grateful to have the team I have around me. Everyone in my team is giving me heart.”

He had the heart to finish quite spectacularly, even while taking 12 of the last 15 games as he was battling some physical issues of his own, with his left leg being treated by trainers at changeovers.

In the final-set denouement, it was the more experienced Zverev who was found wanting, as Alcaraz went on the offensive, eventually serving out for the title and plunging on to his back, only to finally re-emerge tearfully with his shirt caked in clay.

Who did that remind everyone of? It felt like Nadal revisited.

—AAP

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