The rivalry between Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner takes center stage on the French Open

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Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz have been the longer term of men’s tennis for a while now.

Their first meeting on the Paris Masters in October 2021 gave a glimpse of the spectacular tennis the 2 play on the shared court.

The following yr saw a hugely exciting round of 16 match at Wimbledon that captured the eye of the casual tennis spectator, followed by an entertaining final in Umag, Croatia, after which the thrilling late-night and early-morning spectacle on the US Open that heralded her brand of tennis as the following big thing at the highest of the game. Then got here the landmark Miami Open semifinal in 2023, after which one other classic in Indian Wells in 2024.

They did all this within the shadows. First two, then increasingly one – those of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Even after they won their first Grand Slam titles, Alcaraz two and Sinner one, each beating Djokovic, the parable created by 20 years of dominance hung over them.

By the time they stepped onto the red clay court of Roland Garros on Friday, that myth had been shattered. And in a volatile French Open semifinal that Alcaraz won in five sets to succeed in the French Open final, it was he who was one step ahead of his opponent in a rivalry that appears set to turn out to be equally volatile.

Her semifinal at Roland Garros was one other up-and-down match. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty Images)

With Djokovic expected to miss at the very least Wimbledon after knee surgery, it's suddenly not only a rivalry in men's tennis, but a rivalry in all of men's tennis. They are by far the 2 best (fittest) players, with Sinner set to be crowned world No. 1 in a matter of days and Alcaraz hot on the heels of the ailing Djokovic, able to overtake him as world No. 2.

This is one in all those quirks of tennis: the match that appears like a final but isn't one due to the way in which the draw has been drawn. On the opposite side of the draw, Casper Ruud faces Alexander Zverev – Ruud a two-time French Open finalist and Zverev the in-form player of the past few months – but Sinner and Alcaraz have been playing at a distinct level during the last yr or so (longer in Alcaraz's case).

The rivalry continues to be young, but there are already some things to guage. It ought to be a detailed one, as each men won 4 of their first eight matches against one another before Alcaraz triumphed 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 at Roland Garros to advance to the ultimate of the French Open.

This will not be just like the early stages of the rivalry between Roger Federer and Nadal, which began with Nadal winning six of the primary seven meetings, or the present rivalry between two of the most effective players on the planet, where Iga Swiatek led Coco Gauff 11-1 of their head-to-head match.

Carlos Alcaraz prevailed and took a 5-4 lead within the head-to-head match. (Tim Goode / Getty Images)

Nor does either player look like a surface issue. Alcaraz has won on indoor and outdoor hard courts, Sinner on outdoor hard courts, grass and clay. But they’ve only met once on those latter two surfaces, and Alcaraz became Wimbledon champion in 2023 after playing 4 matches at SW19 the yr before and likewise winning at Queen's. The rivalry on clay must also be close if Alcaraz can replicate what he did on the slow hard courts of Indian Wells, using his ability to differ spin, speed and depth to wean Sinner away from the metronomic, bludgeoning consistency that may be a trademark of his baseline tennis.

That's the way it ended up on Friday, and Alcaraz's win meant a win for either side on clay. Sinner led by two sets to 1, but some intriguing lobs and drop shots, coupled with impossible-looking winners from the baseline, eventually turned the match in Alcaraz's favor.

The closeness of their head-to-head matches is reflected of their close relationship. They will not be best friends off the court – few tennis players are – but they get on thoroughly and revel in playing against one another. How long that lasts as they face one another over time and the stakes get higher is one other query, and it was interesting to see the various dynamics before Friday's match in comparison with their friendship as they waited to step onto the court for the semifinals at Indian Wells.

Back then they greeted one another as in the event that they were meeting for a cocktail reception; on Friday, nonetheless, within the tunnel before leaving for Chatrier, the mood was very different. There was a handshake, followed by a glance of seriousness that you just would expect from Alcaraz, after which each men went to their very own homes and started their routine.

This was purely business. Before this, a few of their meetings had almost been of a show-off nature.

Carlos Alcaraz applauded his rival after the sport. (Tim Goode / Getty Images)

After that first meeting on the Paris Masters, a defeated Sinner said to Alcaraz: “I hope we play a few more times.” A beaming Alcaraz replied: “Yes, yes, yes, definitely.”

Something happens after they play against one another — there's an electricity and a chemistry that makes each players elevate the opposite's game. There was a sweet moment within the Indian Wells semifinals in March when the 2 checked out one another and laughed after a blinding rally that Sinner in some way won. It was as in the event that they were saying, “Look at what we just did?” That moment, and the 2's other on-court interactions, convey the sensation you sometimes get in life while you meet a soul mate. Wait, you want this band too? You support this team too? You may sprint at full speed after which in some way smack away a slanted crosscourt forehand?

“I’m already pretty fast and he’s a lot faster than me,” Sinner said of Alcaraz, sounding like someone who is worked up to have finally found his equal opponent.

This mutual improvement was an indicator of the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triumvirate. Nadal dominated Federer, so Federer discovered the way to beat him. Nadal discovered the way to play grass. Djokovic discovered the way to play clay. Their finals, a number of the best matches men's tennis has ever seen, demonstrated this in real time, pushing one another to greater heights and making a closed training camp that took them ever further away from the sector below.

Time will tell if the rivalry takes each player to latest heights (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Who knows if Alcaraz and Sinner will retain their affection for one another when the rivalry becomes less balanced, either head-to-head or when it comes to the variety of Grand Slams won, or each.

They appear to genuinely enjoy watching the opposite elevate their game. It's not like Federer admitting within the 2018 documentary Strokes of Genius that he didn't welcome the threat Nadal posed when he got here on the scene, but was much happier winning major titles with virtually no opposition, thanks very much.

It's hard to assume Sinner or Alcaraz pulling away from the opposite, and there's case for either of them having the upper hand. Alcaraz is best at adapting things to the surface, while Sinner normally plays his own game and makes the surface almost irrelevant. That almost all the time works against just about everyone except Alcaraz and Djokovic, and it didn't work so well in Paris, with Alcaraz's greater versatility making the difference.

Sinner is capitalizing on his momentum, which, although slowed, has taken him past Alcaraz and secured him the highest spot since Monday, as Alcaraz had predicted back in November on the ATP Finals, where Sinner reached the ultimate. But now Alcaraz is in one other Grand Slam final and is on track to win three of the 4 Grand Slam finals, while Sinner wins one in all them.

It is tempting to say that Friday's game was in some way decisive or extremely revealing, but that will be a stretch.

Sinner scored more points overall within the match, but Alcaraz was ahead when it mattered. We need a much larger sample size to predict how this rivalry might play out, and there's a certain quantity of pressure that comes with being the premier rivalry in a sport like Alcaraz and Sinner suddenly are.

At times on Friday they reached the heights expected; at times there was understandably a tension, most clearly seen within the cramps that plagued Sinner within the third set and which Alcaraz said were true for him too.

Alcaraz said before Friday's meeting that “this is the game everyone wants to see.”

While Djokovic recovers, this is predicted to stay the case for some time.

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