For far too long, tennis fans have eagerly waited for the new generation to take the game by storm. Now, at long last, Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek are doing just that.
In the men’s game, the sport has been dominated by three players: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Indeed, the ‘Big Three’ as they are collectively known, have won 61 of the last 73 Grand Slams. Federer is 40 years old, Nadal is 35, and Djokovic is 34. Yet, all three are continuing to school the new boys, who are seeking to alter the script.
Equally, in women’s tennis, Serena Williams was near unstoppable for the first half of the last decade. But aside from Williams, no female player has truly been able to stand tall above the rest.
Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka have all made a name for themselves, without hitting the heights of Williams. And just as Ash Barty looked set to win everything in sight, the Australian retired suddenly.
Yet, Barty’s successor at the top of the rankings, Swiatek, is far more than just a replacement number one. In fact, she could well cement her place as the best player in the world for years to come.
Similarly, Alcaraz’s recent performances suggest that perhaps he is finally the man to topple the ‘Big Three.’
Here’s a look at both players and their stellar starts to the season:
Swiatek in a league of her own
The recent success of Swiatek is hardly surprising and her talent has been known for some time.
In much the same way as Emma Raducanu in New York, the Pole stormed to victory at the French Open in 2020 –– winning all seven of her matches without dropping a set.
Though no major wins have subsequently followed, Swiatek has nonetheless been ridiculously consistent. Across everyone on the WTA Tour, she was the only player to reach at least the fourth round of every Grand Slam last year.
This season, she reached the semi-final in Melbourne and has not looked back since.
Losing to Danielle Collins at the Australian Open seemingly flicked a switch. Swiatek rarely had off-days anyway, but now, even one is considered too many by her own standards.
As of now, the 20-year-old is on a run of 23 consecutive wins and has won four titles in a row: the Qatar Open, Indian Wells, Miami Open and in Stuttgart.
The manner of her victories is also worth noting. Swiatek hasn’t just beaten her opponents, she’s crushed them. The most games she’s dropped in a final this year is five, and that was in a 6-4 6-1 win over Maria Sakkari at Indian Wells.
This is @iga_swiatek's world; we are just living in it 🤷♀️— SonyLIV (@SonyLIV) May 10, 2022
Can the World No. ☝️ reach #RolandGarros 2022’s summit clash & make it 8️⃣ wins in 8️⃣ Finals?
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Right now, it appears as though she’s almost unbeatable. On her day, she is unstoppable, and it’s been a long time since it wasn’t her day.
Some might say the hype surrounding Swiatek right now is a bit extreme. But on this year’s evidence alone, it’s impossible to understate her potential. Perhaps we’ve now moved on from the previous generation and entered into the Swiatek era.
Alcaraz to topple the ‘Big Three’?
In January, Nadal won his 21st major title at the Australian Open –– beating number one seed Daniil Medvedev in five sets.
Medvedev is one of many players in recent years who has been touted as a successor to the ‘Big Three’, along with the likes of Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
But Alcaraz is different. His temperament, his power, his movement, are all exceptional. Plain and simply, he is the perfect tennis player.
Ranked 120th at this stage last year, he cited aims at the start of the season of cracking the top 20. Fast forward five months and the Spaniard is the world number six.
Having turned 19 a matter of days ago, Alcaraz already has four titles to his name in 2022. First at the Rio Open, then in Miami, before further wins in Barcelona and Madrid.
His overall record for this year stands at 28-3 and he has the best win percentage of any player on the ATP Tour.
Along the way, he has beaten everyone who has stood in his path: Tsitsipas on two occasions, Matteo Berrettini in Rio, Casper Ruud in Miami.
In Madrid, however, he did the unimaginable. First, he beat his childhood idol, Nadal. The in-form player in the world, the 10-time champion in Madrid and the best ever player on clay.
Following this, he defeated reigning French Open champion and world number one Novak Djokovic. This marked the first time a player has even beaten Nadal and Djokovic consecutively on clay.
In the final, Alcaraz faced Zverev, the defending champion in Madrid. Yet, the 19-year-old needed little more than an hour to defeat the German –– securing his 11th victory in a row.
Will Alcaraz and Swiatek win the French Open?
On paper, both Alcaraz and Swiatek are the favourites to win at Roland-Garros.
Swiatek will be seeded first and likely have a favourable draw. She has won Slams before and knows what it takes. At this stage, it seems an inevitability she will be in contention. The real question is, who can challenge her?
Meanwhile, Alcaraz looks set to be seeded sixth. He will almost certainly end up in the same draw as Nadal or Djokovic and will likely have to face others in the top 10 at some stage.
For the teenager though, the draw itself is irrelevant. He is not the one fearing, but the one that is feared, and will be for many years to come.