Can Carlos Alcaraz take Rafael Nadal’s crown? – French Open talking points

Can Carlos Alcaraz take Rafael Nadal’s crown? – French Open talking points

Roland Garros will have a very different feel this year with Rafael Nadal absent for the first time in nearly two decades.

But, while the king of clay will be much missed, two major trophies are on the line and a host of young pretenders bidding to claim the silverware.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five talking points for the Parisian fortnight.

Can Alcaraz take Nadal’s crown?

Spanish tennis fans should not feel too sorry for themselves because the heir to Nadal’s place at the top of the sport is already here. Having only just turned 20, Carlos Alcaraz has already won his first grand-slam title at the US Open and this week reclaimed the world number one ranking. As confident on hard courts as clay, Alcaraz is an astounding athlete while his all-round game and calm temperament belong to a much more experienced player. There is a lot of hype but boy is it justified.

How fit is Djokovic?

Novak Djokovic wears a protective sleeve over his elbow in Rome
Novak Djokovic is wearing a protective sleeve over his elbow in Rome (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Novak Djokovic has two French Open titles on his CV but how many more would there be had he not continually bumped into Nadal? This would appear to be a golden chance not just to win in Paris again but also to move past his great rival and become the first man ever to reach 23 grand slam singles titles. All has not been well with the Serbian since he won the Australian Open again, though, and he goes into the tournament with doubts over an elbow problem.

Swiatek hat-trick?

Last year it seemed inevitable Iga Swiatek would win a second French Open title, and she duly brushed aside all comers on an unbeaten run that eventually ended at 37 matches. This season has been different, though. The Pole has struggled at times with the expectation on her shoulders, while there have been physical issues, too. A WTA big three is emerging comprising of Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, and the 21-year-old’s number one ranking could soon be under threat.

Norrie carries British hopes

Cameron Norrie in Rome
Cameron Norrie will bid to reach the fourth round in Paris for the first time (Andrew Medichini/AP)

It has been a rather underwhelming spring for Britain’s leading players and hopes of a strong French Open appear remote. With Emma Raducanu recovering from three operations, no British women gained direct entry – a damning statistic. Things are better for the men but Jack Draper’s progress has again been frustratingly held up by injury and Andy Murray has opted to prioritise preparation for the grass-court season. As has become the norm, Britain’s best hope of a second week appearance is Cameron Norrie, who has reached the third round the last two years.

Night session equality?

Caroline Garcia is France's leading light
Caroline Garcia is France’s leading light (Antonietta Baldassarre/AP)

One of the big talking points last year was how organisers used their new single-match night session. Only one women’s match topped the bill, and tournament director Amelie Mauresmo apologised after saying men’s contests had more appeal. How close to 50-50 they will go this year remains to be seen but, with no Nadal, the star power of the men’s game is reduced, while Caroline Garcia is by some distance France’s best player.