Alcaraz-Zverev: Head-to-head in their first Roland Garros final. GETTY IMAGES

One of these two will succeed Novak Djokovic at the French Open on Sunday. The Spaniard defeated Sinner in an intense semi-final that lasted more than four hours. The German beat Casper Ruud in four sets despite suffering from a stomach ache. At 21, Alcaraz is the youngest player to have reached a final on all surfaces: clay, grass and hard courts.

The clash between these two young twenty-somethings marks the confirmation of a generational shift. For the first time in twenty years, none of the 'Big Three' will be present. Neither Federer, Nadal nor Djokovic, who is beginning to feel the effects of injury.

This Sunday's final is a milestone that could shape the future of world tennis. For the first time in their careers, Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev will be playing in a final at Roland Garros. This is the only Grand Slam to be played on clay. Both defeated Jannik Sinner and Casper Ruud respectively in the semi-finals on Friday.

Both the Spaniard and the German, who are ranked third and fourth in the world respectively, were victims of last year's semi-finals. In 2023, they failed to get past that stage. In 2024, they will meet on the main court for the first time, with the title at stake and the chance to join Serb Novak Djokovic in the tournament's record books.

Friday's two semi-finals were very evenly matched. The first, between Carlos Alcaraz andJannik Sinner, was dubbed the early final by the pundits. The two young players will be the players to define an era, ranked 3rd and 4th in the world respectively.

Alcaraz started poorly but turned the match around to beat the Italian in five sets 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in 4 hours and 9 minutes under the sun. "Today was one of the toughest matches I've played. The hardest I've played in my short career against Jannik, who I hope to play many more times," said Alcaraz. "He concluded: "There are moments when you have to find joy in suffering.

The Spaniard had to change his style. He was accustomed to taking risks and playing with definitive, winning shots. He had to suffer and be more careful. He succeeded, however, after the victory, Alcaraz said that he imagined himself holding the trophy because, "Finals are there to be won, not just played."

His experience proves him right. Despite his youth, he has already played in two Grand Slam finals, at the US Open in 2022 and Wimbledon in 2023, and won both. His first on clay will be at Roland Garros in 2024. At 21, he will be the youngest player to play a final on all three surfaces.

On Sunday, the 21-year-old could win his third Grand Slam title. And not just any Grand Slam, but Roland Garros, traditionally the most prestigious in Spanish tennis, where Rafa Nadal has made history with 14 titles. Nadal, the king of this tournament, will be watching from the stands after losing in the first round to Zverev, who will play his compatriot in the final on Sunday.

The rivalry between Alcaraz and Sinner is the future of tennis. In their eight previous encounters, they were tied 4-4. Alcaraz leaves Paris strengthened. Sinner, 22, was resigned after his defeat. However, at least he celebrated the "exciting" new sporting rivalry with his friend Alcaraz.

"I think it's exciting for tennis, especially when the results are very close. The winner is happy. The loser has to find a way to win next time. I think it's exciting. I'll try to win next time," he said. It appears that Sinner has overcome the hip problems that forced his withdrawal from the Rome Masters 1000 in May. "I moved well during the four-hour match, so my hip isn't bothering me anymore," he noted. The Italian is already thinking about Wimbledon. He was a semi-finalist there last year.

And if the semi-final between Alcaraz and Sinner was the early final, the other was a rematch of sorts. A year ago, Ruud had eliminated Zverev in the semi-finals at Roland Garros, on the same Philippe Chatrier court, so the grudge match was on. This time, however, it was the German who smiled as he prevailed in four sets, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

Ruud was hampered by a stomach ache. It affected him from the first set. Zverev overcame the 'Paris curse', which had seen him lose in the semi-finals in the last three seasons, despite the psychological impact of his ongoing trial in Germany for allegedly assaulting his ex-partner. Fortunately for him, his passage to the final came just hours after a Berlin court dismissed the case against him. The case was settled by agreement between the parties.

Zverev lost the final of the 2020 US Open when he was beaten by Austria's Dominic Thiem. "I wasn't ready then. Now I'm not a kid anymore, I'm older. If not now, when?", he smiled. The final against Thiem was Zverev's only Grand Slam appearance. He is an Olympic champion (2021) and has won two titles at the season-ending Masters (2018, 2021).