All eyes on Alcaraz in quest for Roland Garros glory

·3-min read

World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz, who will be fighting for his first French Open title, does not consider himself favourite to win, saying his main priority is to enjoy the tournament beyond defending his ranking.

Alcaraz heads into a grand slam as the top seed for the first time with the absence of 14-times champion and titleholder Rafael Nadal plus Novak Djokovic's fitness struggles offering him the chance to win a second major and cement his No.1 status.

But having been placed in the same half of the draw as 22-time major winner Djokovic on Thursday, the 20-year-old Spaniard said he was keen to manage his own expectations.

"I'm going to try to do my best and that's all I'm thinking about," Alcaraz said at a promotional event where he played with children ahead of the tournament.

"I'm not the favourite, but of course I can say I'm one of them. I don't have a lot of pressure.

"I come here to enjoy, to show my best tennis. And of course I'll try to do a good result, but it's not the only thing I think about."

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open after being sidelined for three months due to abdominal and hamstring injuries but he has been making up for lost time, winning in Buenos Aires on his return and taking two more claycourt titles in Barcelona and Madrid.

After becoming the youngest world No.1 last September following his US Open triumph, Alcaraz leapfrogged Djokovic into top spot once again despite being stunned in the Rome third round by Hungarian qualifier Fabian Marozsan earlier this month.

Barring that blip, the Indian Wells champion has been the player to beat on the circuit, with his athleticism and warrior spirit reminiscent of countryman Nadal, who will skip Roland Garros this year due to injury.

Unlike Alcaraz, Djokovic has the experience of winning the title on the red dirt of Paris having triumphed in 2016 and 2021, but the Serb has not enjoyed a perfect build-up to the tournament starting on Sunday.

The 36-year-old pulled out of Madrid due to an elbow problem and was hampered by an unspecified physical issue in Rome before losing in the quarter-finals, slipping to third in the rankings following Daniil Medvedev's triumph.

Djokovic said the next generation's growing impact on the tour was like a breath of fresh air and is well aware of the threat posed by Alcaraz.

"He's been playing some impressive tennis, a great level," Djokovic said in Rome.

"He's the player to beat on this surface, no doubt."

In Nadal's absence, the focus is on Alcaraz and Djokovic but Scandinavian stars Holger Rune and last year's runner-up Casper Ruud also sense a big opportunity.

"I don't know if it's that up for grabs (the title). I don't know who could beat Carlos," said coach Toni Nadal, who also talked about his nephew's absence.

"There aren't many who can beat Carlos or Djokovic. They are not easy to beat. I do not know if Rune or Medvedev are going to do well."

Alcaraz could face some potentially challenging duels on his way to a possible semi-final against Djokovic, with 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, Lorenzo Musetti and Felix Auger-Aliassime in the top quarter of the draw.