The Coupe des Mousquetaires does land in the hands of a Spaniard, after all. Just not the one we’ve been too used to seeing bully opponents in Paris over the last decade-and-a-half, but the one with a child-like smile we’re increasingly growing into.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz kisses the trophy after winning the men’s final of the French Open tennis tournament against Germany’s Alexander Zverev at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Sunday, June 9(AP)

Carlos Alcaraz, the heir apparent to Rafael Nadal, is fast spreading his command. And has now taken over an empire his idol built and bossed 14 years over, for which the wide-eyed kid would rush home from school to catch a glimpse on TV or sit on the outer lawns of Roland Garros staring at the big screen.

3.6 Crore Indians visited in a single day choosing us as India’s undisputed platform for General Election Results. Explore the latest updates here!

There he was on Sunday, right in the heart of its most prestigious court of Philippe-Chatrier, slumping to the red dirt, living his childhood spectacle for real.

He’d just battled over four hours and beaten Alexander Zverev 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 in the final for his first French Open title and third Grand Slam. He’d just joined a rich Spanish heritage of champions at Roland Garros — from Nadal to Sergi Bruguera to Nadal’s coach Carlos Moya to his own coach Juan Carlos Ferrero.

No one in the history of the game has won Slams across hard, grass and clay courts at a younger age than Alcaraz, 21. 2022 US Open was a breakthrough, 2023 Wimbledon his dream, yet 2024 French Open, dare we say, more impressive.

Simply given the backdrop of mental and physical doubts. Alcaraz endured a difficult back end of 2023 and beginning of 2024, not winning a title from July until March (Zverev, incidentally, beat him in the Australian Open quarter-final). Then came the right forearm injury that sucked the meat out of his ferocious forehands and sidelined him from the lead-up event in Rome ahead of the French Open.

“The last month we were struggling a lot… a lot of doubts coming here,” Alcaraz said on court.

He remained far from his best even across the last couple of weeks but, in echoing the words of his idol, Alcaraz found joy in “suffering”. Be it in a five-set scrap against Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals, or the five-set dogfight with Zverev — the German has now lost his second major final — on Sunday.

Alcaraz was the younger of the two even though more experienced on the Slam final stage. Yet both showed equal nerves. Zverev began with two double faults to be broken right away and so was Alcaraz after a double fault of his own.

Alcaraz gradually brought his dictating baseline game and damaging forehand to the fore, extracting a couple of errors from either wing of Zverev to break again to love. For the German, a lot hinged on his big first strike but with the first serve win percentage down to 48% for the set and Alcaraz turning up with his bagful of tricks — groundstrokes, drops, volleys, slices — the opening set lay emphatically in the Spaniard’s bag.

From 40-love and out of nowhere, Alcaraz had to clean up a hold fending off three break chances. Like in the momentum-shifting semis with Sinner, Alcaraz’s stroke efficiency and direction went awry. A missed overhead smash, a couple of unforced errors and a shanked forehand saw Zverev break for 3-2.

Zverev’s own strengths were picking up — his first serve win percentage jumped to 80% — and he was now coming on top of the funky stuff too. Like responding to an excellent Alcaraz pick-up volley with an exquisitely angled backhand crosscourt volley. Striking more winners off the forehand than Alcaraz (7 to 6) to complement his backhand solidity (1 unforced error to Alcaraz’s 8), Zverev waltzed through the set winning five straight games.

Through the end of that set and start of the third, Zverev fired three love holds. Alcaraz changed things by returning a lot closer to the baseline than by the advertising board. The aggressive intent paid off as he dented Zverev’s serve to love in the sixth game after the latter slipped on the first point.

What then slipped, again, was Alcaraz’s level. An error-strewn couple of service games, including for the set, brought his opponent right back. It was all Zverev sought to zoom past, winning four straight games.

An unhappy Alcaraz shook his head, yet shook things up in no time to win four straight games of his own. The sting went out of Zverev’s serves — the first serve win percentage was down in the forties again — and so did his fight in the fourth set.

Alcaraz held the edge and experience in one-set shootoffs in a Slam final; he’d won his lone fifth-setter for the Wimbledon title and Zverev had lost his to surrender the 2020 US Open title. And that showed. Zverev fluffed two putaways at the net and littered a double fault to be broken in the third game. Alcaraz fended off four break chances the next game — an out call on second serve at 15-40 was overruled by the chair umpire — to hold on.

To the game, set, match, championship and the Spanish legacy in Paris.

Source link