Men’s tennis is perfectly balanced in 2022, and the next ten days of Roland Garros will show us how the rest of the season will likely unfold.
Nadal and Djokovic are fighting age, injuries, and each other in a race to finish their careers with the most Grand Slam titles. Zverev, Tsitsipas, and Medvedev are desperately trying to come out from under the shadow of the Big Three and carve out their own legacies. And then there’s Carlos Alcaraz, the teen sensation who has come from nowhere to take the tennis world by storm.
Heading into Roland Garros, it seemed to be a three-horse race between Nadal, Djokovic, and Alcaraz. So, how has each title contender fared after one round of play?
Alcaraz unfazed by two weeks off
As the form player of 2022, some tennis fans were surprised to see Alcaraz’s late withdrawal from Rome in early May. Surely it would have been better to head into Roland Garros with recent match play under his belt, as the majority of players on tour planned to do, rather than arriving without a competitive match in two weeks?
It seems Alcaraz and his team knew what they were doing. However, not only did the Spaniard dispatch Argentinian lucky loser Juan Ignacio Londero 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 in under two hours, he appeared fresh and rested while doing so. A critic would say this wasn’t vintage Alcaraz — he only hit 22 winners to his 25 unforced errors — but that would be knit-picking. The teen accelerated after a tight first set, winning ten games straight from 6-4, 2-2, to finish the match in style.
Unfortunately for every other player on tour, Carlos Alcaraz is still playing red-hot tennis and is looking good for a run deep into Roland Garros 2022. Whether or not that run leads to lifting a trophy will largely depend on one of Nadal or Djokovic stopping him in the semifinals, should they make it that far.
Nadal showing no signs of injury
Less than a fortnight ago, Rafael Nadal crumbled in the third set against Dennis Shapovalov, crashing out of the Rome Masters in dramatic style, clearly hindered by an ongoing foot injury.
It was a welcome relief for Nadal fans when round one of Roland Garros showed no signs of the lingering foot condition. The 21-time Grand Slam champion made light work of Australian Jordan Thompson, breaking serve seven times to move through to the second round 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. This will have been exactly what Rafa’s team wanted, as he looks to navigate the first week of the tournament with as little time on the court as possible, mitigating any further pressure on his body.
So far, so good for Nadal, though one would imagine the real test will come next week when he is inevitably pushed to play more than three sets.
Djokovic looking back to his 2021 best
While Nadal’s third set failure came two weeks ago, Novak Djokovic’s moment of concern occurred a little over a month ago in the Belgrade Open. Facing Andrey Rublev in the final, Djokovic wilted in the final set, unable to win a game as he looked hapless in front of a home crowd.
Since then, Djokovic has steadily rebuilt his fitness following a vaccine-related break from the game in the first quarter of this year. A deep run in Madrid, followed by a title in Rome, showed fans that he was close to returning to his blistering form of 2021, which saw him come within a match of a claiming a Calendar Slam.
The opening round of Roland Garros all but confirmed that the Serb is back, having repaired his fitness in time to compete against the best for his 21st Grand Slam title. Japan’s number two player, Yoshihito Nishioka, was no match for the World No. 1, losing 6-3, 6-1, 6-0. Novak cruised through the challenge, hitting 35 winners and winning an impressive 18/23 net points.
Roland Garros’ opening round confirmed that Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Carlos Alcaraz are the clear favorites to lift the trophy in ten days. However, despite Nadal’s legacy and Alcaraz’s form, it’s hard to see anyone besting Djokovic this year.