‘Carlos Alcaraz fractionally ahead of Novak Djokovic’

Shahida Jacobs
Novak Djokovic and Alcaraz
Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic are the two clear favourites for Roland Garros, but Tim Henman says his money would be on the Spaniard should the two meet in Paris.

With 14-time champion Rafael Nadal withdrawing from this year’s French Open due to injury, Alcaraz and Djokovic are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the title in Paris with many feeling it could go either way.

While a match between the two would usually be the grand finale of a Grand Slam, there is a chance that they could meet in the semi-final as Djokovic will only be seeded third with Alcaraz taking the top seed after returning to No 1 in the ATP Rankings on Monday.

If they do end up playing each other in Paris, then it will only be their second meeting at the top with Alcaraz winning their last-four encounter at the Madrid Open last year.

Former British No 1 Henman is salivating at the prospect of a Alcaraz-Djokovic clash at Roland Garros.

“It would be an incredible match to watch,” he said on Eurosport. “Djokovic’s standard is so high and we expect him to play brilliantly every day, but it’s not that easy. His career at this stage is about the majors, but he has been building up his timing and resilience for the Grand Slams.

“I’m sure, come the start, he will be one of the favourites. I would put Alcaraz fractionally ahead of Djokovic because he has played more tennis and had some good results on clay.

“The level of these two is just a little bit higher.

“Behind is [Casper] Ruud, [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, [Holger] Rune, [Jannik] Sinner and [Andrey] Rublev – who won his first Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo; they’re all great clay-court players. The strength in depth is incredible. But Alcaraz and Djokovic are the two clear favourites.”

Alcaraz is 20-2 on clay this year having won the Argentina Open, Barcelona Open and Madrid Open with his only two defeats coming in the Rio Open final against Cameron Norrie and the third round of the Italian Open when he was stunned by the lowly-ranked Fabian Marozsan.

Djokovic, meanwhile, is 5-3 on the red dirt as he lost in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters, quarter-final of the Srpska Open and the last eight of the Italian Open.

So what exactly gives Alcaraz the edge over Djokovic?

Henman added: “Not too many players can beat him [Alcaraz] on clay. He is so sound. He serves bigger, better, and more accurately. He doesn’t make mistakes. His movement is as good as I’ve ever seen. He has great variation, comes to the net, uses drop shots. His forehand and backhand from the back of the court are incredible.

“Could Sinner beat Alcaraz? Yes. Could Djokovic, yes? But if I had to choose a player to win the match, I would say Carlos.

“Alcaraz is probably more like Djokovic than Nadal due to their power and flexibility. They are the two best movers I’ve ever seen. They can change direction, [fire a] backhand down the line, they can do everything. Alcaraz’s game is impressive as he is so young and has so much variation. He volleys well and uses drop shots. He has already won a Slam and has a huge future.

“We have been very lucky in men’s tennis to have some great rivalries and we’re now looking for the next rivalries to evolve. It would be great for Carlos to play Djokovic a few more times before Novak retires.

“Looking at Sinner and Alcaraz, they have had some great matches already and that could be a great rivalry. Holger Rune is a great competitor and still so young. We’re looking for these new dynamics for the game.”

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