Alcaraz eyes Nadal and Djokovic’ feat after French Open triumph, begins Wimbledon title defense starts July 1

Alcaraz eyes Nadal and Djokovic’ feat after French Open triumph, begins Wimbledon title defense starts July 1

Tennis star Carlos Alcaraz plans to continue his tradition of celebrating Grand Slam titles with tattoos by getting ink of the date he won his first French Open championship and a drawing of the Eiffel Tower.

That art, to help remember Sunday's 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 comeback against Alexander Zverev in the final at Roland Garros, will go near Alcaraz's left ankle. His right ankle already bears the date of his 2023 Wimbledon triumph and an image of a strawberry; his left arm carries the date of his first major trophy, which arrived at the 2022 U.S. Open.

At the rate he's going, the 21-year-old from Spain might run out of skin. Alcaraz, though, noted Sunday that he assured his mother he will not keep printing the dates of every Slam victory for the rest of his career on his body. Instead, he'll keep it to just dates of the first title from each of the four most important events in tennis — which means all that remains is the Australian Open, and who would doubt that he eventually will add that one, too?

As it is, Alcaraz is the youngest man to collect a Slam title on clay, grass, and hard courts, much as he was the youngest, at 19, to reach No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

“My game suits ... every surface,” he explained, “because I practice it.”

He first learned the sport on clay, he finds himself most comfortable on hard courts — he sought to excel there because that's what is used at most tournaments — and his always-look-to-attack style is a perfect fit for grass, as his win over seven-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic in last year's final at the All England Club proved. Alcaraz's title defense there begins July 1.

Of course, he said, he works on his defense. And his drop shots and volleys are valuable tools, as Zverev and so many others see.

But Alcaraz's underlying principle is this: “My main goal is being aggressive, as much as I can.”

In the semifinals in Paris, he wore down Jannik Sinner — who replaced the injured Djokovic at No. 1 in the rankings on Monday, ahead of No. 2 Alcaraz — and came back from a two-sets-to-one deficit by grabbing eight of the last 11 games in a 4-hour, 9-minute match.

In the final, Alcaraz wore down the fourth-ranked Zverev, again erasing a 2-1 deficit in sets, this time by rolling through 12 of the last 15 games in a 4-hour, 19-minute match.

“We’re both physically strong, but he’s a beast. He’s an animal, for sure. The intensity he plays tennis at is different to other people,” Zverev said. “He can do so many different things.”

Alcaraz dealt with cramps against both Sinner and Zverev and said the real key, he has found, is in the mind.

“If you're not strong in your head and you don't show mental strength,” Alcaraz said, “you won't win Grand Slams.”

Greatness has been predicted of him for quite some time and, so far, he has met the outsized expectations. The standards he's setting only serve to increase the volume of the praise — and the projections of what might be possible.

As he answered questions in English and Spanish on Sunday night, Alcaraz was asked in both languages how many of these trophies he could keep winning.

One reporter mentioned Djokovic's men's-record 24 Grand Slam titles (which, if you're keeping track, is 21 more than where Alcaraz's total stands). Another brought up that number, as well as the 14 French Open championships won by his countryman and, to use Alcaraz's word, “idol,” Rafael Nadal (just, oh, 13 ahead of Alcaraz).

Alcaraz laughed and called those two accomplishments otherworldly.

When someone wanted to know whether equaling Djokovic is something he dreams about and is achievable, Alcaraz smiled that wide smile of his.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I hope so.”

Then Alcaraz related a conversation he had Saturday with his coach, 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, about how “difficult” it is to win one Slam — and how “unbelievable” it is that Djokovic has won 24.

“Right now, I can’t think about it. I just want to keep going, and let’s see how many Grand Slams I’m going to (own) at the end of my career. Hopefully, reach the 24,” Alcaraz said, before reaching his left hand toward the silver Coupe des Mousquetaires he had just earned and adding, “but right now, I’m going to enjoy my third one and let’s see in the future.”