After Winning Roland-Garros, Alcaraz Is Truly A Champion For All Surfaces

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Roland-Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 11, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Winning a Grand Slam is always special. Just ask Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. Each knows a thing or two about winning majors and the special feeling that accompanies the thrill of each victory.

Just 21, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, has become the first male player to win his first three Grand Slams on three different surfaces. He’s done it through his athleticism, his ability to adapt to hard courts, grass and clay, and with a marvelous variation in his game that incorporates both powerful groundstrokes and the improvisational and deceptive surprise of a well-timed drop shot.

“Winning your first in every Grand Slam is always super special,” Alcaraz said Sunday evening, after winning his first Roland-Garros title and third major overall. His other Grand Slams came on hard courts at the US Open in 2022 and on grass at Wimbledon last year.

There have been only six other men who have won Grand Slam titles on all three surfaces: Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Andre Agassi, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. The first three are Hall of Famers, who played before Alcaraz was born. The second three are certain to be Hall of Famers in the future.

After the third-seeded Alcaraz defeated No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2, in four hours and 19 minutes on Court Phillip-Chatrier, filled to its capacity with 14,962 fans – many of them waving Spanish flags and chanting “Carlos! Carlos!” – the native of El Palmar, Murcia fell to the ground and remained on the clay surface for a moment to soak in the admiration, smearing his kit in red dirt. Then, he made his way up into the stands to hug his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, other members of his team, and his parents. It was a very emotional scene but one filled with much happiness.

The Spaniard joined Nadal as the only players to lift the Roland Garros title before turning 22 since 2000 (Nadal did it in 2005, 2006 and 2007). He is also the seventh player from Spain to win the Roland-Garros men’s title in the Open Era. His coach, Ferrero, won the title in 2003, when Alcaraz was just one month old. The other Spaniards to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires reads like a who’s who of Spanish tennis greats: Andres Gimeno, Sergi Bruguera, Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and, of course, Nadal, who earned his title of King of Clay thanks to winning Roland-Garros a record 14 times.

“Knowing all the Spanish players who have won this tournament and being able to put my name on that amazing list is something unbelievable,” Alcaraz said. “[It is] something that I dreamed about being in this position since I started playing tennis, since I was five, six years old. So it’s a great, great feeling.”

Winning Roland-Garros has been a dream of Alcaraz’s since childhood. “Running when I finished school to put the TV on, just to watch the tournament on TV, and now I’m lifting the trophy in front of all of you,” he said during the trophy ceremony.

This year’s Roland-Garros became wide open once Nadal exited in the first round after losing to Zverev and after the defending champion Djokovic withdrew before his quarterfinal match with No. 7 seed Casper Ruud due to a knee injury. Alcaraz seized the opportunity when he became the first Paris champion to win both a semifinal and final each in five sets since Rod Laver in 1962.

By defeating new No. 1 Jannik Sinner and Zverev in back-to-back five-set thrillers, new No. 2 Alcaraz won his 14th tour-level title and eighth on clay. He’s now 11-1 in fifth sets. Often, Alcaraz plays his best when he’s under pressure.

“I know that when I’m playing a fifth set you have to give everything and you have to give your heart,” Alcaraz said. “I mean, in those moments, it’s where the top players give their best tennis. So, as I said many times, I wanted to be one of the best tennis players in the world, so I have to give extra in those moments in the fifth set, I have to show the opponent that I am fresh. Like we are playing the first game of the match.”

When it was time to answer questions from Spanish reporters Sunday night, Alcaraz suggested that mental strength wins matches. “You don’t have to play brilliantly, show your best tennis or be the best version of yourself to win,” he said. “In the end, you often win with your head. If you are mentally weak, you can lose even if you are playing the best tennis of your life.

“You can get through rounds, but when the key moment comes, if you are not strong in the head you won’t make it. In the fifth set of the final is the time to give it all, fight until you can’t fight anymore. That’s what makes you a warrior, and I consider myself a warrior.”

It’s that warrior mentality that has made Alcaraz 3-0 in major finals, which is a stark contrast to Zverev, who is now 0-2 after he also lost a two-set lead to Dominic Thiem in the 2020 US Open final.

“We’re both physically strong, but he’s a beast,” Zverev said, speaking of Alcaraz during his post-match news conference. “He’s an animal, for sure. The intensity he plays tennis at is different to other people. You know, he can do so many things, right? …

“I felt like this Grand Slam final I did everything I could,” he added. “At the US Open, I kind of gave it away myself.” It’s a bit different.”

With everything Alcaraz has achieved in such a short time, it seems like the sky’s the limit as to what he may achieve in the future.

“Knowing everything that I have been through the last month with the injuries and all that stuff,” he said. “Probably this one is the moment that I’m really proud about myself, because of everything I’ve done the last month just to be ready for this tournament with my team. …

“I’m proud to be in the history of our sport,” Alcaraz added. “To put my name there, the name of a kid from El Palmar, from Murcia.”

A doubles breakthrough for the Coco Gauff

Although reigning US Open champion Coco Gauff was denied her chance to add to her collection of major titles in singles, when she lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Iga Swiatek, the 20-year-old American gained glory in Paris by winning her first Grand Slam crown in doubles.

On Sunday, Gauff and Czech Katerina Siniakova, who teamed for the first time during the Parisian fortnight due to injuries sustained by their regular partners, defeated Italians Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini. While it was the eighth women’s doubles major title for Siniakova, who at 28 already owns a career Grand Slam in doubles, it was the first one for Gauff in her third try after she lost in the US Open finals in 2021 and at Roland-Garros in 2022.

“Doubles I definitely didn’t think it would happen to me, to be frank,” Gauff said. “I think that was one of the few times in my life after I lost the first two finals, I thought, ‘well, okay, I reached that point, maybe I should focus on singles.’

“Here, I didn’t even expect to play. I think it’s funny how life teaches you those lessons that sometimes it’s better just to be relaxed and the good things will happen.”

Alcaraz receives plenty of plaudits via social media

After winning his first Roland-Garros trophy and third major title, Carlos Alcaraz heard from many well-wishers via social media. Among them were four-time Paris champion Iga Swiatek, 14-time Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal, and Hall of Fame greats Billie Jean King and Rod Laver.

By the numbers

While Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Mate Pavic won their first Grand Slam title as a team on Saturday, defeating Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori of Italy, it marked a huge milestone for Pavic. That’s because he became just the sixth man in the Open Era to complete a career Grand Slam and win an Olympic Games doubles gold medal.

Pavic joins the select company of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge of Australia, Daniel Nestor of Canada, and Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States, who have achieved the feat.

“Quotable …”

“What people need to understand about the night sessions is that we do not schedule any of the matches in advance. Of course, we have considered taking these sessions to two matches, but this would involve major logistical limitations. Naturally, every day we look at the headline matches to know which is compatible with the night session, with a view to ensuring that spectators with a night ticket get to see enough play. Nothing’s set in stone, of course, but putting on just one match obviously forces us to make certain choices. These are difficult decisions to make but, again, we just weren’t able to do it differently this year.”

Amelie Mauresmo, Roland-Garros Tournament Director, explaining during a Sunday press conference why there were no women’s singles matches scheduled for any of the night sessions this year.