Paris smells like 2005. The year in which a young 19-year-old Rafael Nadal, just turned during the tournament, debuted at the Parisian Grand Slam and won the title in the final against Mariano Puerta. That boy, who received the Musketeers Cup from Zinedine Zidane and who had beaten world number one Roger Federer on the way to the title, began a dynasty in Paris that lasts to this day. The aroma is the same as when Carlos Alcaraz now enters the Bolonia Forest, where from May 22 to June 5 the reign of world tennis will be settled.

Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alcaraz compete in one of the most interesting and hard-fought Roland Garros of recent times, with little clarity about which of the three is the top favorite and with the tension of knowing that a duel between the Serbian is on the horizon and the player from Manacor in the quarterfinals.

Nadal’s thirteen titles at the Philippe Chatrier are always sufficient argument to place him as the main candidate in the French capital, but his physical condition, hours before the tournament begins, is an unknown quantity. The Spaniard, who signed the best start to the season of his sports career, with 20 wins in a row, suffered a crack in his rib that kept him in the dry dock for six weeks, missing Monte Carlo and Barcelona, ​​and on his return he could not be at the lowest level in Madrid (fourth) and Rome (eighth) due to discomfort in the chronic injury he suffers in his foot.

Nadal has been training since Wednesday in Paris and is confident that the body, at 35 years old, who will be 36 on June 3, will last seven best-of-five-set matches. “My foot is better. That’s why I’m here. I am ready to play the best I can, “said Nadal, who does not see himself as a favorite. “No, I’m not the favorite at all. I am one of the contenders for the title. Today, I’m not the favourite.”

Nadal will debut against the Australian Jordan Thompson, a placid match a priori, before being able to face Stan Wawrinka in the second round, Botic Van de Zandschulp in the third and Felix Auger-Aliassime in the round of 16. It is in rooms where the swerve comes. Nadal’s fifth-seeded status has matched him in the same room as Djokovic and he could face the Serbian in the quarterfinals, their earliest duel in Paris since the Belgrade side tipped him in this same round in 2015. Alexander Zverev or Carlos Alcaraz in the semifinals and Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final complete one of Nadal’s most complicated paths in Paris.

The options of achieving a fourteenth title are also complicated by the explosion of Alcaraz, who reaches his second Roland Garros as the best tennis player on the clay court tour. After the title in Miami, he hit the ground running in the first round of Monte Carlo, but he soon woke up. Victories in Barcelona and Madrid and rest in Rome to avoid increasing stress on the ankle. Alcaraz has arrived as number six in the world in Paris and can hit the table that he lacks on the circuit, conquer his first Grand Slam. His route in the draw places him with a previous tennis player in the first round, with Albert Ramos in the second, with Sebastian Korda, his executioner in Monte Carlo, in the third, and with Cameron Norrie in the round of 16. From quarters the challenge reaches another level. Zverev in the quarters, Djokovic or Nadal in the semis and Medvedev or Tsitsipas in the final.

The Russian and the Greek have been the most benefited by the draw, since they get rid of the three beasts until the final, although Medvedev arrives in a low level of form, having missed the clay tour due to a hernia, while Tsitsipas he still doesn’t know what it’s like to win a Grande. With the aim of matching Nadal’s 21 is Djokovic, the third in discord of the triumvirate. The Serbian, practically unprecedented until the arrival of brick dust, has increased the level exponentially until reaching the ceiling in Rome, with a title that gives him wings ahead of a Roland Garros that he has won twice and in which last year he took away the thorn of winning a Nadal at a good level.

“If you talk about Roland Garros, Nadal is always the favourite. It is true that Alcaraz has been extraordinary this year. I aspire to win all the Grand Slam titles, ”explained Djokovic, who also defends the world number one in Paris and who faces a terrifying month with the defense of Roland Garros and Wimbledon.