French Open: Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek are tennis' rising stars

    Alcaraz celebrates after his title win in Madrid.

    (CNN)Twelve months ago, teenager Carlos Alcaraz needed to qualify to make the main draw of the French Open. This year, he is among the favorites to win the men's section of the tournament.

    His is the sort of meteoric rise sport craves and should he achieve what many are predicting -- win the Coupes des Mousquetaires on the Parisian clay aged 19 -- he will make headlines around the world.
    When tennis' elite usually descend on Paris for the second grand slam of the year, Rafael Nadal has been the dominant force of the men's game, while the outcome of the women's section has been unpredictable. There have been eight different winners in the last 10 years.
      Alcaraz's rise -- from 141 in the world at the beginning of last year, to sixth now -- offers a much-needed alternative narrative to men's clay court tennis.
        The Spaniard has won four ATP titles this year -- in Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Miami and Madrid -- beating Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev on his way to the title in his country's capital.
        Players past and present have been fulsome in their praise for the young Spaniard.
        Four-time French Open champion Justine Henine said last week in an interview with Belgian newspaper Sudinfo that Alcaraz was "more complete" than Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, while Zverev has described him as the best player "in the world right now."
          "He definitely is special," Djokovic has told reporters, while Nadal has conceded that his compatriot can beat anyone.

          A new King for the clay?

          High praise leads to high expectations. But, of course, behemoths stand in Alcaraz's way of a first grand slam.
          Nadal, the 'King of Clay,' has been almost unbeatable on the red dirt since winning the first of his 13 titles at Roland Garos aged 19. There hasn't been a better clay court player his the history of the game.
          But Nadal, who would capture a record-extending 22nd major title with victory in Paris, is managing a foot injury and is more vulnerable than ever. Barring a late withdrawal, Nadal's bid for a 14th French Open crown starts against Australia's Jordan Thompson.
          Alcaraz (L) and Djokovic hug at the end of their 2022 ATP Tour Madrid Open semifinal.
          Djokovic is the defending champion and will be aiming to draw level with Nadal on 21 grand slams. For all the focus on Alcaraz, the Serb is the world number one and recently won his first title of the season, in Rome, to play himself into form at the right time.
          Others could be in contention, too. Danill Medvedev is closing in on Djokovic's world No1 spot, but the Russian has skipped all the clay court season to date. And the ATP's "Next Gen' stars, Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipasas, need to soon start fulfilling their promise at grand slams.

          Taking women's clay court to another level

          Swiatek poses with the winner's trophy after defeating Tunisia's Ons Jabeur to win the final of the Women's WTA Rome Open tennis tournament on May 15, 2022.