You may have heard that Rafael Nadal is a bit useful on clay, with the all-time great becoming virtually untouchable when strutting his stuff through the red dust. A barely believable haul of 13 French Open titles hammers that point home as an entry in the history books that will surely never be broken.

He is not done yet either, with a return to the comforting surroundings of Paris about to be taken in for 2022 – on the back of a record-setting major triumph at the Australian Open. Before a ball is hit on another Grand Slam stage, Nadal is the 2/1 favourite in Roland-Garros odds to take his haul of La Coupe des Mousquetaires to 14.

If that left arm starts swinging in formidable fashion once again, then a master of his art is going to take some stopping. There are, however, plenty of challengers to another crown who believe they are capable of ascending to the throne.

Novak Djokovic may have been out of sight recently, but he should never be out of mind and has ambitions of drawing level with Nadal again on 21 major titles. The likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev cannot be overlooked either, but it is Carlos Alcaraz’s meteoric rise to prominence that has captured the imagination of a global audience.

From a record-breaking entry into the world’s top 100 back in May 2021 to sitting at No. 6 in the ATP rankings with five career titles to his name, Alcaraz is a man making his way to the top in a hurry. 

Matter of time

It would appear to be only a matter of time before the hottest of prospects breaks his Grand Slam luck and, with time very much on his side, a serious marker can be put down to rivals who have previously been more concerned with trying to knock Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer from the loftiest of perches.

A new generation was always going to upset the establishment at some point, and Alcaraz may be the leader of that charge. In overcoming Zverez in the final of the Madrid Open, he has already shown that he has what it takes to emerge victorious on clay.

He remains very much an heir to Nadal for now, but sights are being set on the ultimate prize. History is on his side when it comes to that quest, as is geography. Spanish tennis is filled with French Open icons, with 19 prestigious prizes handed out in Paris to performers from that part of the world.

The vast majority of those have gone to Nadal, but the likes of Juan Carlos Ferrero, Albert Costa, Carlos Moya, Sergi Bruguera and Andres Gimeno have also found a winning formula in the Open era. To put things further into perspective during that time period, Sweden sits second on the honours list with nine successes – and the last of those came in 1988 as Mats Wilander followed in Bjorn Borg’s illustrious footsteps.

Nadal has taken over in the 21st century and, with Alcaraz coming to the fore, it may be that the King of Clay continues to reign in Spain once the day comes for a much sought-after title to be passed on.


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