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Editorial: Iberian gold

The Spaniards' dominance at the year's second Grand Slam has been continuing in perpetuity, but for the occasional slip-up that is harder to spot than a blue moon, with challengers bidding to dethrone them ending up as the proverbial bridesmaids.

Editorial: Iberian gold
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Carlos Alcaraz

The French Open organisers, in consultation with ATP, should consider rechristening the tournament's name to the Spanish Open. The Spaniards, for their part, need not harbour envy at not having a ‘home’ Grand Slam, seeing how their countrymen have claimed ownership of the courts in France for decades now. The King of Clay's clasp on the trophy he treasures the most may be loosening with his advancing years and a catalogue of injuries piling up. But, another conquistador, rather belatedly, has burst onto the terre battue of Roland Garros, injecting renewed hope that there is no immediate threat of the Spanish reign ending abruptly. Even if the occupant of the throne changes, you can rest assured what his nativity would be.

The Spaniards' dominance at the year's second Grand Slam has been continuing in perpetuity, but for the occasional slip-up that is harder to spot than a blue moon, with challengers bidding to dethrone them ending up as the proverbial bridesmaids. Carlos Alcaraz, who won his maiden French Open last week, has long been thought of as a worthy successor to emulate compatriot Rafael Nadal's awe-inspiring accomplishments on varied surfaces with clay being the most prominent of them all. The belief ingrained in most experts is that if you are from Spain, your first Slam success would invariably arrive in Paris.

Alcaraz is a contrarian in that sense, albeit not by choice, with him opening his trophy account in New York two years ago. He followed that up by looking pressure in the eye, refusing to blink, and instead mocking it with a gutsy and tenacious victory over Novak Djokovic at last year's Wimbledon. Barely three weeks earlier, the 21-year-old had lost to Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals. He would later divulge that he was bogged down by a bundle of nerves at seeing his Goliath of an opponent across the net. That revelation, though lauded for its disarming candour nonetheless raised questions over Alcaraz’s ability to handle pressure or "clutch moments" as the experts would like to call, in tense situations against formidable rivals.

However, not much time elapsed before he poured scorn on those misplaced concerns by ending Djokovic's five-year triumphant run at SW 19 in a characteristically backs-to-the-wall effort. Rather than build on that heart-warming Wimbledon success, a worrying slump ensued — one that not many, himself included, would've foreseen. There were concerns of injury at the beginning of this season that coincided with his own form going down and the emergence of Italy's Jannik Sinner, who was busy compiling an enviable win-loss record. What's more, Alcaraz exhibited no signs of turning a corner in the build-up to the French Open, and more worryingly his injury woes resurfaced, forcing him to pull out of the prestigious Italian Open.

To complicate matters, he didn't receive a favourable draw either and the bookmakers were hesitant, justifiably so, to install him as the prohibitive favourite. However, it's not without reason that Alcaraz has come to be regarded as Nadal's heir apparent. Amongst all virtues inherited from his idol — gritty resilience and endearing humility would be most prominently visible in his quiver of skill sets. Despite a few roadblocks impeding his rise, Alcaraz scripted yet another glorious chapter in a book that promises to contain more such tales of gumption in the days ahead.

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