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Alcaraz “could win 10 Roland Garroses”, says McNamee

  • Matt Trollope

Carlos Alcaraz is the player to beat at Roland Garros this year, according to an Australian tennis great with a special relationship to the tournament.

Paul McNamee believes Alcaraz is currently the game’s best player on clay and stands to build an extraordinary record in Paris due to his command over all the strokes and nuances required to succeed on red dirt.

McNamee is well placed to comment, given his own success on the surface and his studious approach to it.

LISTEN: Paul McNamee on The Sit-Down

In 1980, McNamee stunned world No.2 John McEnroe to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros. In 2021 he authored Welcome to the Dance, a book described as his “ode to clay-court tennis” in which he discusses its complexities, its appeal, and how mastering tennis on clay means mastering the game as a whole.

Speaking on this week’s episode of The Sit-Down, McNamee likened clay to chess, an “angular” game differing to the more “linear” game played on hard courts.

"A clay-court is a chess board. So the Grand Masters are Rafael Nadal and Bjorn Borg. Next in line will be Carlos Alcaraz,” said McNamee, who also served as Australian Open tournament director from 1995 to 2006.

"It was almost a miracle (Alcaraz) didn't win the French last year, and he will win it this year, unless something amazing happens.

“He's that good, this guy on clay. This guy is the real deal. He's got it all.

"He could win 10 Roland Garroses. We're not saying 14, like Rafa, but for me he's far and away the best player on clay right now.”

Since the beginning of 2022, Alcaraz has won 56 of 65 clay-court matches – more than 86 per cent – and won six of his nine finals on the surface.

Two of those came in Madrid, where he is the two-time defending champion. He will look to extend his winning streak in the Spanish capital to 14 matches when he plays Jan-Lennard Struff on Tuesday, continuing his comeback from a right arm injury which saw him skip Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

It is a rematch of the 2023 final in Madrid, played one month before Alcaraz ultimately fell to Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros semifinals.

It marked his best result at Roland Garros, after he lost in the 2022 quarterfinals. He reached the third round in his main-draw debut in 2021.

"The last few years I've been at Roland Garros, I go and watch Alcaraz, because it brings me joy to see a guy doing what he's doing,” McNamee said.

“The drop shots, the angles, the mixing of the power with the finesse, his all-court mastery.

"He's not linear. Jannik Sinner is linear. Great player, but linear. Alcaraz is not. There's a difference."

McNamee will also have been heartened to see the resurgence of Rafael Nadal, who in Madrid has won three consecutive matches for the first time since 2022. 

The Aussie, an Australian Open and Wimbledon doubles champion plus a member of two winning Australian Davis Cup teams, says Nadal's enduring success in Paris hinges on one thing above all else.

"On clay, the best shot wins. So in the end, Nadal wins because he's got the best shot in the history of the game, which is his forehand. There is no better shot in the history of tennis. That's why he's won 14 Roland Garroses," McNamee said.

"Don't write him off."