Alcaraz chases childhood dream in French Open final against Zverev

Alcaraz chases childhood dream in French Open final against Zverev

As Carlos Alcaraz looked ahead to his first Roland Garros final, he harked back to his childhood. 

‘I have a special feeling for this tournament,’ said Alcaraz, who faces Alexander Zverev in the championship match on Sunday. ‘I remember when I finish school I’m running home to put the TV on and watch the matches here in the French Open.’

What makes this 21-year-old Spaniard so endearing is that, within the body of a supreme athlete, one can still see that little boy from Murcia. 

His childlike love for tennis shines in the way he smiles his way through every press conference and in the freewheeling joy with which he plays. As he described it himself: ‘Playing with passion, playing with the dream of a little kid.’

He continued: ‘I watched a lot of matches. Of course, Rafa Nadal dominating this tournament for 14, 15 years.

Carlos Alcaraz harked back to his childhood ahead of his first French Open final 

Within the body of a supreme athlete, one can still see that little boy from Murcia

Within the body of a supreme athlete, one can still see that little boy from Murcia

‘Not only Rafa,’ he says, naming Juan Carlos Ferrero, his own mentor and coach, Carlos Moya and Albert Costa, calling his fellow Spaniards ‘legends from our sport that won this tournament’.

And he adds: ‘I really want to put my name on that list as well.’

Alcaraz has already won the US Open and Wimbledon, but this title clearly carries more emotional significance, and at times that has weighed him down. He suffered an attack of nervous cramping in last year’s semi-final here against Novak Djokovic and again against Jannik Sinner on Friday.

Alcaraz’s opponent on Sunday is a man who knows all about the icy grip of tension. In his only previous Grand Slam final, at the US Open in 2020, Zverev collapsed from two sets to love up against Dominic Thiem.

‘I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it now, I was not ready to win my first Grand Slam,’ Zverev said after he defeated Casper Ruud in his semi-final.

‘I was not mature enough, I was too much of a kid still. I didn’t know what the occasion meant and that’s why I lost. I’m 27 years old, I’m definitely not a kid any more and hopefully I can win my first Grand Slam.’

Alcaraz has already won the US Open (above) and Wimbledon, but this title clearly carries more emotional significance

Alcaraz has already won the US Open (above) and Wimbledon, but this title clearly carries more emotional significance

Alexander Zverev collapsed from two sets to love up in the 2020 final against Dominic Thiem

Alexander Zverev collapsed from two sets to love up in the 2020 final against Dominic Thiem

A similar collapse this time would be a surprise. The German has become a complete player with an iron-clad mentality.

But his talk of personal growth and maturity sits awkwardly with the fact that, until the morning of his semi-final, Zverev was on trial in Berlin for assaulting the mother of his daughter. 

The two parties reached a settlement and the trial was discontinued, with the judge stressing this was ‘not a decision about guilt or innocence’. 

Zverev, willfully or otherwise, did not seem to understand that legal distinction as he claimed the result as a full clearing of his name: ‘That’s what dropping the case is. That is innocence. They’re not going to drop the case if you’re guilty.’

The triumphalist nature of Zverev’s response did not speak to that maturity of which he talked. As a court spokesperson said: ‘The truth remains open.’

Back to the tennis: the bookmakers have Alcaraz a decent favourite but the mood at Roland Garros is that this will be extremely close.

Zverev (right) has settled his assault case with his ex-girlfriend Brenda Patea (left)

Zverev (right) has settled his assault case with his ex-girlfriend Brenda Patea (left) 

The bookmakers have Alcaraz a decent favourite but the mood at Roland Garros is that this will be extremely close

The bookmakers have Alcaraz a decent favourite but the mood at Roland Garros is that this will be extremely close

Zverev leads the head-to-heads 5-4 and his win against Alcaraz in the Australian Open quarter-finals was the best individual performance of the year.

He blends huge serving with baseline consistency and his double-handed backhand is a majestic shot.

The key for Alcaraz will be patience: he must wait for his chances in the rallies and quell his tendency towards over-elaboration. He must, to a degree, temper the enthusiasm of that little boy who sprinted home to watch the Roland Garros final.

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