The path to Roland Garros success, which seemed inevitable for Carlos Alcaraz only three weeks ago, has taken unexpected turns since the Spanish kid won the Madrid Open earlier in May. First, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic took advantage of Alcaraz’s rest week to blast the remaining field in Rome. The draw then placed him in the same half as Djokovic and Nadal, requiring him to effectively recapture his Madrid form by the semifinals.
His five-set thriller against experienced countryman Albert Ramos-Violas threatened to be the final straw: after appearing unbeatable in his opening match, the No. 6 seed was beginning to buckle under the huge strain placed atop his not inconsiderably big shoulders.
How would he perform against Sebastian Korda, the only guy to beat him since his first Masters victory in Miami? Alcaraz restored his commanding stance and avenged his Monte Carlo setback to the 21-year-old American, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, to reach his first of what feels like many fourth rounds at Roland Garros.
At 19, Alcaraz is in an inherently difficult narrative place, where the gap between what he can achieve and what he currently has will never be greater. How does a young man with the makings of a double-digit major champion deal with purgatory? Where does he find the discipline to resist the impulse to “skip to the good part,” as many a popular Tik Tok begins?
For the time being, he is firmly rooted in that complex network of natural skill and hard work, a rarefied air formerly afforded to only a select few on the ATP tour.
He won the first set against Korda under the Court Philippe-Chatrier lights, converting the first break point of the match, then saving two against his own serve in the second.
Korda, to his credit, pressed on and saved five set points to keep the pressure on Alcaraz. Unfortunately for Korda, Alcaraz counterpunches both pressure and pace, sliding into a two-set lead and denying three more break chances early in the third.
A quick remark on hype: despite the fact that access to tennis matches has never been easier or more complete, one is still much more likely to hear about burgeoning talent before seeing for themselves, creating the noted gap between future potential and current ability.
What sets Alcaraz apart from the typical archetype is that he is one of the rare cases where the hype does not, in reality, do the actual product justice. And this is a world where the pen is still mightier than the sword, and authors get paid word for bombastic word. On paper, Alcaraz is a potential Grand Slam champion and all-time great. In-person, he makes others his age look completely unworthy of such accolades: gifted with the body of an athlete, the mind of a champion, and the soul of a contender, he truly is that good, Virginia.
So good that it took about as long to reflect on hype as it did for Alcaraz to reel off three straight games and take an all-but-certain lead over Korda, who kept things close with his all-court—but comparatively incomplete—game. Meanwhile, they assisted Alcaraz to a 5-2 victory, after which he played one more faultless game to book a second-round match against No. 21 seed Karen Khachanov. A net cord got him to match point, but it’s not luck when you can win the following point with an out-of-position backhand down the line when you’re Alcaraz. It appears to be fate once more.