Is Alcaraz already replacing “the legend” Nadal in the hearts of tennis fans?

At Roland Garros,

Do you think there will be more people, this Friday at Roland-Garros, to attend the enticing night session of Carlos Alcaraz against Denis Shapovalov, or to photograph themselves all day long around the statue of Rafael Nadal? In truth, there could be a match. On the side of the various reception points of Roland, we are thus assured that one of the most frequent questions is “Where is this famous statue of Rafa in fact? “.

We have indeed been able to observe, throughout the week, that the very successful work of the Spanish sculptor Jordi Diez Fernandez never remained alone for more than a few seconds, near door 1. Unconditional fans of the Majorcan or simply curious, all have awareness of the symbolic dimension, almost of the order of the pilgrimage, to approach this Nadal of 3 meters, the year of his first package since his debut on the Parisian clay court in 2005. For their pose, some even have fun to mimic the furious forehand of the phenomenon, titled 14 times Porte d’Auteuil.

Thousands of Roland-Garros spectators pose this week in front of the statue of Rafael Nadal, some of them mimicking (roughly) his forehand attack. – J. Laugier/20 Minutes

“Nadal and Roland, it’s a lifelong story”

Coming from northern Romania with his family to spend a few days at Roland-Garros, Raul (19) wants to take his picture from all possible angles, for a good half hour, as close as possible to this Rafa d ‘steel. “When I learned of his package, I was devastated. Anyone who really loves tennis knows what a legend he is,” he explains. Among the testimonies of the last few weeks, with tribute values ​​concerning him, we note the releases of Amélie Mauresmo and Thiago Seyboth Wild.

Rafael Nadal and Roland-Garros, it’s a story for life, confided in April the director of the Parisian Grand Slam, before the formalization of his package. He left his mark on the tournament in an unequaled and probably incomparable way. The personality of the man he has become over the years is quite incredible. He has values ​​of humility and work that we want to convey here for the tournament. »

I watched him all my life, I read his biography at the age of 14, the Brazilian explained on Tuesday, after his surprising success against Daniil Medvedev. His way of playing, the state of mind he puts on the pitch, his rage to win, you don’t see that every day. I always dreamed of playing here at Roland against him. »

In both cases, we clearly understand the extent to which the legacy (the legacy) of Rafael Nadal is colossal. “His absence is not even really a disappointment in my opinion, given all the happiness he has already given to the public at Roland-Garros, confides the Rémois Anthony (36 years old), also in admiration in front of this statue inaugurated in 2021 And then, what’s nice is that we have a bit of the feeling that there is a passing of the baton between Spanish champions… ”

And hop, thirty years of reign of Spanish tennis at Roland-Garros summarized in a photo, taken in May 2022 during the Madrid tournament.
And hop, thirty years of reign of Spanish tennis at Roland-Garros summarized in a photo, taken in May 2022 during the Madrid tournament. – OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

“It won’t be ‘the king is dead, long live the king'”

Well, this is also a feeling shared in the spans of Roland-Garros: while Rafa will celebrate his 37th birthday on Saturday (sniff, no cake ritual on the Central, we think of you the pastry chef of the tournament), we tend to project ourselves, with a touch of nostalgia, on life at Roland without him, even if he will do everything to return to compete there for a final edition in 2024. “Honestly, I came from the Dominican Republic mainly to see Nadal for the first time in my life, but attending an Alcaraz match somewhat compensates for his withdrawal, underlines Victor. I saw the future of tennis and his name is Carlos Alcaraz. » A Springsteenian formulation which is shared in Spain, with nuances, as confides to us Nacho Albarranthe daily’s special correspondent ace at Roland-Garros since 2017.

Alcaraz is a phenomenon that appeals to the Spaniards. In Madrid, where he has won twice, the stadium is full every time he plays, and he is adored by the younger generation. Young people already take him as an example more than Nadal but it makes sense because they have seen Rafa’s exploits less than we have. He has a more direct style of play than Nadal, more aggressive, with great variation, drop shots. It’s actually the next-gen style of play. But all Alcaraz he is, he does not yet arouse the same interest as Rafa, especially at Roland-Garros. He can partly fill the very big void left by his absence, but it will never be the same, at least not right away. In Spain, Rafa is better known and more important than the head of government. It is a symbol that is unanimous. »

To the delight of Central spectators, Carlos Alcaraz scored some spectacular shots on Wednesday during his previous success against the Japanese Taro Daniel.
To the delight of Central spectators, Carlos Alcaraz scored some spectacular shots on Wednesday during his previous success against the Japanese Taro Daniel. – Javier Garcia/SIPA

This is why on the other side of the Pyrenees, the simple notion of “transition” or “handover” between the two compatriots would take on the appearance of a lèse-majesté crime. “Already because Rafa has not announced his retirement, but also out of respect for what he represents in Spain, specifies Nacho Albarran. At the house of ace for example, there is a lot of emphasis on the fact that we must avoid talking about a change of cycle. It won’t be “the king is dead, long live the king”. Everything is done not to offend Rafa, it’s normal, it’s a matter of respect. “And it is not the young Carlos Alcaraz (20 years old), although winner of the US Open 2022 and already world number one, who will claim the royal crown before the retirement of the eldest whom he admires so much.

Alcaraz acclaimed, “Luca minced meat” too

But if the young Iberian generation already seems to swear by Alcaraz, what about France? We took advantage of the second round of the young world number one, at Philippe-Chatrier on Wednesday against the Japanese Taro Daniel (6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2), to take the pulse of his popularity. And who says Wednesday says children’s day at Roland. Ludovic, who accompanies toddlers from the Charente tennis committee, stops us immediately: “No, they don’t know Alcaraz any more than that.” Limit vexed, one of them interrupts him: “If all the same, it’s the new Nadal”. And yes, the Charentais do not take as many precautions as our Spanish friends.

A little further on, when we ask another group of children, from Essonne and aged between 10 and 12, about their favorite player, the varied answers burst out, between Alcaraz, Nadal, but also Sinner, Rune, and “Luca Minced Meat” as they jokingly renamed it. French tennis, which was not yet out of the tournament, is definitely struggling to fascinate young and old. Although he came from the Lyon region in a group, Noah thus showed himself to be ruthless, in the spans of the Philippe-Chatrier court, where Caroline Garcia was in an unfavorable tie against Anna Blinkova: “I encourage the Russian so that Alcaraz arrives faster on field. It is especially him that I want to see today”.

“Smiling is the key that opens all doors”

Noah’s wish will therefore be granted: he was able to enjoy his idol’s match in full before returning to the Rhône. However, the enthusiasm of the Central for Carlos Alcaraz, that afternoon, was quite far from approaching the enthusiasm for the latest vintages of Rafa Porte d’Auteuil. For his third participation, the one that Stefanos Tsitsipas describes as “the most intelligent player of all time” gives the impression of savoring every moment without suffering as additional pressure from the absence of his compatriot.

Besides, does he reap the encouragement of all Rafa aficionados? “I don’t know if they are Rafael Nadal fans or not, but I felt the energy of the crowd,” he said on Wednesday after his success against Taro Daniel. I feel the love from the people here, it’s great. And smiling like I do all the time is the key that opens all doors. “And if those of all the hearts of Spain were finally more resistant than access to a first Cup of the Musketeers?

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