The odds-on favorite to win the French Open hasn’t changed, but a bit of intrigue has popped up for the second spot, as young Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz briefly edged ahead of 20-time Grand Slam Champion Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
Odds are of course dynamic and bettors could sense a deal and put their money on Djokovic, moving him back into the second spot by himself, but the 18-year-old Alcaraz, who has won three ATP titles to start the year, is living up to the hype surrounding him.
Rafael Nadal, wearer of 13 French Open crowns, remains the top pick in French Open odds, even as he will turn 36 years old during the tournament.
Alcaraz and Djokovic didn’t play each other last week, but in many ways they squared off in parallel lives. Both took the court in their home country and battled exhaustion. Djokovic lost to Andrey Rublev, fighting valiantly until the 3rd set, when he got bageled 6-0.
Djokovic said he’s still recovering from a viral illness that has led to exhaustion on court, calling it “a bit worrisome.” He lost the first set in each of his 4 matches at the Serbia Open.
In stark contrast at the Barcelona Open, Alcaraz twice had to play 2 matches in one day. He fended off 2 match points against Alex de Minaur in a 3-set grind, then made it look easy against Pablo Carreno Busta a few hours later to grab the title. Alcaraz was taped up for the final, so he’s feeling the effects of clay season as well.
But he’s only 18, and Djokovic is 34.
Here’s a look at some factors to keep in mind as the clay season reaches its apex.
Alcaraz Propelled Into Top Ten
With the win in Barcelona, Alcaraz rockets into the Top 10 for the first time, grabbing the ranking of number 9. As hard as it is to believe, Alcaraz had to qualify for Roland Garros last year. This year, he’ll be seeded. From quallies to one of the favorites: That’s how fast his ascent has been.
Alcaraz Performance in Best-of-Five
One might think Alcaraz would have only a small body of work in best-of-five Grand Slam matches, but he has played in five of them and acquitted himself quite well. Even though he’s young, Alcaraz turned pro in 2018. The Spaniard’s overall record in Grand Slams is a stellar 10-5. He’s advanced past the first round in every Slam main draw he’s played. And he’s still a teenager. He’s that good.
At this year’s Australian Open, Alcaraz lost to Matteo Berrettini in a 3rd round 5-set bonanza. No shame in that. At Wimbledon last year, he lost in the second round to Daniil Medvedev. The world number 2 won’t be around at either the French Open or Wimbledon this year, so he won’t be a worry.
It’s worth noting that as Alcaraz was developed as a player, Roland Garros was the first Grand Slam the youngster attempted to play. Two years ago in 2020, he attempted to qualify but lost in the first round. This could be a sign that perhaps his coaches and team felt Alcaraz’s best surface is clay and felt comfortable putting him out there as a newly-turned 17 year old.
The drop shot remains a favorite on clay due to players’ propensity to stand far behind the baseline, particularly on returns. If players can drop the ball short, it can catch their opponents off guard and put them on the run to devastating effect. Both Djokovic and Alcaraz like to employ the drop shot on clay. With the difference in their ages, perhaps in 2022 it’s for different reasons.
Djokovic might need to use the drop shot to shorten points and prevent fatigue. As Jim Courier pointed out about Alcaraz, the Spaniard likes to save the shot for pressure situations like break points. Either way, look for both players’ efficiency with the shot in the next two events.
Truth be told, it’s still a long road to Roland Garros. Two arduous Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome stand between now and the French Open. A wise option might be to gauge both Djokovic and Alcaraz performances in these events before making any grand predictions about Paris.