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French Open: Suffering in Spain, succeeding in Paris

Paris: Every year in the fashion capital of the world, on tastefully decorated courts, elegantly-dressed fans get enchanted by disheveled gritty men in dirt-stained clothes. Invariably, for close to three decades, the Parisians in their immaculate Channels and Diors have ended up applauding the French Open triumph of some tired Spaniard bathed in red clay.

In the last 29 editions, 18 winners have been from Spain. Rafael Nadal’s 13, Sergi Bruguera’s two and one each by Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero made their country’s red and yellow the perennial black of the most stylized of Slams.

This time around, as the French Open commences on Sunday, the first Slam in two years that doesn’t have Covid restrictions or a cloud over anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic’s participation, Spain’s presence in the men’s singles draw is an unusually high eight. Attracting an unprecedented buzz, not seen on the tennis circuit since Nadal was 19, is a boy from a Spanish village known for its beaches and palms living the last year of his dreamy teens.

Carlos Alcaraz, in the last couple of months, has beaten Nadal, Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas – currently the best in business. Still some pundits are holding back the platitudes. His wins have been in best-of-three sets, and that’s a rider that can’t be ignored.

In tennis, the fourth and fifth sets happen to be the auspicious time when ‘greatness’ visits the court, it’s the moment of truth when the likes of ‘promise’ and ‘potential’ across the net start to look insufficient and not yet ‘well done’. Reference: Any recent Djokovic Grand Slam triumph.

Paris will decide if Alcaraz needs more time in the furnace to steel it up. Unlike the Slams on grass and hard courts, clay demands a lot from the player and eventually ends up taking out much more. History shows that a fancy booming serves or a chip-and-charge game shaped around a killer volley might take you far, or even till the final day, at Wimbledon, or even US or Australian Opens.

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