Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz ready to show the future is here at Roland Garros

All eyes will be on Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz in Paris

Eleanor Crooks
Thursday 19 May 2022 06:00
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Iga Swiatek won her fifth successive tournament in Rome on Sunday (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Iga Swiatek won her fifth successive tournament in Rome on Sunday (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Tennis has been ambushed by the future in 2022 and two names are on everyone’s lips at Roland Garros.

Iga Swiatek goes into the year’s second grand slam as a clear world number one and title favourite for every tournament she plays while, a couple of weeks after his 19th birthday, Carlos Alcaraz has shaken up the top of men’s tennis.

Ashleigh Barty’s shock retirement just when she seemed set to dominate women’s tennis might have left a void but Swiatek, who does not turn 21 until midway through the French Open, has swept in with successive titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome.

The Pole is not a new name having burst into the spotlight with a sensational run to the French Open title in 2020 but she has clearly marked herself out from the raft of other one-time major champions of recent years by the way she has built on her breakthrough success.

“I feel like I’m a different player right now,” said Swiatek. “Last year I feel like I still was trying to find some kind of consistency in the wins that I had, and also confirmation that Roland Garros wasn’t just a one-off tournament.

“I feel like I found that and I feel like I can move forward and just focus on my next goals. For sure the tournaments that I played this year, they have shown me that I can play better tennis on hard courts.

“The transition that I have to do to clay, it’s pretty different because usually it was like, ‘whoa, clay, finally I can play well’. I feel like my level was high anyway. Hopefully I’m just going to be able to enjoy tennis as much as I did for the whole season.”

Iga Swiatek has come a long way since winning the girls’ title at Wimbledon in 2018 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Born in Warsaw, Swiatek has a sporting background with her father Tomasz having rowed for Poland at the 1988 Olympics.

She followed her older sister Agata into tennis and was a leading junior, winning the Wimbledon girls’ title in 2018.

Swiatek grew up idolising Rafael Nadal and her heavy topspin forehand is the nearest equivalent to the Spaniard’s in the women’s game, while her all-court game and intelligent point construction are also key weapons.

A talented student, Swiatek completed high school and even as a top-10 player considered delaying her tennis career to go to university.

Psychologist Daria Abramowicz is as important a part of her team as her coach and physio and has played a key role in helping Swiatek adjust to the heightened expectations and pressure on her.

Those same expectations have fully settled now on the remarkable Alcaraz, who had to come through qualifying at Roland Garros only last year but looks set to be a fixture at the top of the sport for years to come.

He has won four titles already in 2022 including the Masters events in Miami and Madrid, where he defeated Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev in successive matches.

Hailing from the southern city of Murcia, Alcaraz turned professional in 2018 and, under the tutelage of former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero, quickly announced himself as a serious talent.

Carlos Alcaraz with the Madrid Open trophy (Paul White/AP)

Alcaraz already has a complete game, boasting powerful groundstrokes and the best drop shot around, but the most striking thing for a player of his age is his maturity on and off the court.

His best performance at a grand slam so far came at the US Open last year, when he reached the quarter-finals, but he is being touted as the most likely challenger to Nadal and Djokovic for the Coupe Des Mousquetaires.

Alcaraz makes no secret of his ambition, saying in an interview with Marca: “My goal until the end of the year is to try to win one of the three remaining grand slams. It is a great motivation for me and I will fight for it.”

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