One day after Novak Djokovic lost in a Monte Carlo tournament which lacks Rafael Nadal, the other supreme showcase player in the field, Carlos Alcaraz, tumbled out of the event by losing to a resourceful and determined Sebastian Korda in the Round of 32.
What is fascinating about these results — beyond the fact that they are both upsets — is that the losing players in the spotlight, Djokovic and Alcaraz, have no real reason to be concerned. The winners are the ones who face the real questions.
That’s not how it normally works in tennis or the broader theater of sports.
In this case, in this week, at this tournament, that seems to be the theme, however: The surprising winners of high-profile matches carry the questions into the future, more than the losers.
This is a paradoxical point, but not a complicated one.
Novak Djokovic just needs match play. He should be fine for Roland Garros as he collects more matches and plays more tournaments, which he will do in the coming weeks. He will be physically fresh, so he doesn’t need to worry about overplaying at this point.
Carlos Alcaraz just made a deep run in Indian Wells followed by a championship run in Miami. Monte Carlo emerges very quickly on the calendar after Miami. There’s a reason Rafael Nadal owned Monte Carlo but has never won Miami. It’s hellaciously difficult to do well in both places — different continents, different surfaces, different wind environments — just two weeks apart.
While few expected Sebastian Korda to win, we can still say this match set up well for him, precisely because of all the heavy lifting Alcaraz had recently done. The match was anything but easy, to be sure, but Korda was mentally fresh. Alcaraz missed just enough of the shots he would normally make (and which he DID make in Miami) to tip the scales to the American.
Korda took advantage of circumstances, fighting back from a rough second-set tiebreaker and an 0-2 third-set deficit to prevail.
Alcaraz can rest up for Barcelona and, in late April, recharge his batteries before Madrid. This loss does not hurt him in any meaningful way.
The questions surround Korda, much as they surround Alejandro Davidovich Fokina after his upset of Djokovic.
Korda and ADF both have a lot of potential. There is an ample supply of exciting, raw material which — if polished and refined — can produce special tennis. Korda laced his crosscourt forehand into Alcaraz’s deuce corner with great effect. He redirected the ball and hit impressive shots on the run. As Korda grows into his body, his serve — a liability last year at Wimbledon in the break-fest against Karen Khachanov — should get better. His game should get bigger.
A win over Alcaraz offers Korda a moment which can build his belief and trust in his game. Like ADF, he has to now prove that he can build on an eye-popping match result and translate it into substantial career improvement.
As for Alcaraz and Djokovic, let’s put it this way: Meeting in Rome or Paris would carry so much more weight than meeting in Monte Carlo. No one should be upset this match didn’t occur this week, with Djokovic so rusty and Alcaraz making the quick transition from Miami. We can wait until the time is right.
Sebastian Korda and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina need to show that the time is right for an ascendance on the ATP Tour.