Rafael Nadal’s Italian Open injury gives Carlos Alcaraz advantage as French Open favourite

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Rafael Nadal has been surpassed as the bookies’ favourite for the French Open following his injury-stricken exit from the Italian Open. The world No 4 crashed out to Denis Shapovalov in three sets on Thursday after experiencing an issue with his chronic foot injury which gave 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz the advantage ahead of the next Grand Slam, as he overtook his compatriot to become the favourite.

Nadal is the 13-time champion at the French Open and won a record 21st Grand Slam title at the start of the season, cementing himself to extend his records in Paris next month. But the world No 4 injured his rib in Indian Wells and, on Thursday, suffered another scare with his chronic foot injury as he crashed out of the Rome Masters, and has now been replaced as the favourite for the upcoming Major tournament.

And it’s not 20-time Grand Slam winner and defending champion Novak Djokovic who has become the leader for the title despite surpassing the Spaniard for second place. Instead, it is Nadal’s young countryman Alcaraz, who is fresh off the back of winning his second Masters 1000 title at the Madrid Open, having won the Barcelona Open two weeks earlier.

In an average of 19 bookmakers’ favourites, including the likes of Sky Bet and Bet365, the teenager sits at the top of the pile as the man with the lowest odds to pick up his maiden Grand Slam title. Alcaraz’s season has already been compared to the one Nadal experienced in 2005, and he could again follow in the 35-year-old’s footsteps by winning the French Open as a 19-year-old on his sixth career appearance in a Grand Slam main draw.

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When he won his first Barcelona Open as an 18-year-old on April 24, many noted that it was the exact same date that Nadal won the first of his 12 Barcelona Open titles as a then-18-year-old exactly 17 years prior. The following day Alcaraz made his top 10 debut, once again exactly 17 years to the day a teenage Nadal did the same in 2005.

But the 13-time champion in Paris is still hoping to fend off his young successor at the French Open as the title remains his goal, despite uncertainty surrounding his foot injury. “It’s still the goal,” he said after suffering a 1-6 7-5 6-2 loss to Shapovalov in the Italian Open round-of-16.

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“[It’s] in a week and a couple of days and I’m gonna keep dreaming about that goal.” Nadal has been dealing with the chronic foot problem throughout his career, most recently when he was forced to skip the last six months of the 2021 season and undergo a medical procedure.

In his comeback in January, he went on a 20 match-winning streak which spanned titles in Melbourne, Acapulco and a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, so the former world No 1 knows a thing or two about managing the issue to still win a Grand Slam.

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