Carlos Alcaraz takes long and winding road to his French Open destiny

Carlos Alcaraz wins French Open
Carlos Alcaraz wins French Open

Carlos Alcaraz’s tennis reaches the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, often verging between those peaks and troughs without warning.

Few have stepped onto the court possessing his level of talent, or his level of inane self-belief, but natural gifts and confidence do not win you Grand Slam titles alone.

You, as Alcaraz so eloquently said after his five-set French Open semi-final win over Jannik Sinner, have to find “the joy in suffering.”

In Sunday’s final against Alexander Zverev, he was certainly suffering, and there did not always appear to be much joy.

But, in a sport where so often it is your off days that define you, he handled his off day better than fourth seed Zverev, whose quest for a Grand Slam title must now continue.

Perhaps it was the Spaniard’s unblemished 2-0 record in Grand Slam finals that ultimately helped him over the line, in a final where both were plagued by nerves at times.

Whatever the key factor was, it was Alcaraz who summoned a bit more of something, anything, or everything, when he needed to.

Carlos Alcaraz played one of the ‘worst matches of his career’ to beat Jannik Sinner

Rewind four hours into the start of the final and this did not look like it was going to be much of a match.

After an early trade or breaks, it was the world No 3 – who will be back up to No 2 tomorrow – who was free-flowing, sliding and gliding around the court with a maturity well beyond his years.

Alcaraz looked close to his best in an emphatic serve but suddenly, it felt like someone had switched him off, while simultaneously electrifying Zverev’s serve and forehand.

The German – who has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons off-court recently – has so often crumbled on the big occasion, but he handled a tough opening set like someone who had won multiple majors.

He was more than solid enough to take advantage of Alcaraz’s dip to claim the second and then, in what could have been a decisive swing, came from 2-5 down in the second to take the third set.

Alcaraz had never found himself two sets to one down in a Grand Slam final before, but he did find himself in that very position against Sinner on Friday.

And you could sense that even in the space of 48 hours, he had learnt on the job.

A sublime fourth set – perfect apart from a single break of his serve – got him to where he wanted and needed to be.

The final set was not as straightforward as the score suggests it was, but there are no asterisks present in the record books to provide such a disclaimer.

Instead, it will show that after dropping the third set, he lost just three more games, in a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory to hand him a third Grand Slam title in as many seasons.

The paths to Alcaraz’s first three major victories have always been long, and winding; never have been straightforward.

But the best things are sometimes those that have taken the most effort to obtain and slowly but surely, Alcaraz is turning himself into a dominant Grand Slam force.

This was the title he wanted more than anything; as a Spaniard, it is easy to understand why.

It was not easy for him to get it done, but in the end, the long and winding road was a fruitful one.