Roger Alton

My one to watch at the French Open

My one to watch at the French Open
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The timing of Brendon McCullum’s appointment as England’s Test match coach couldn’t be better for him, or for the matey but very canny Rob Key, cricket’s managing director. Had they taken over their jobs when England were at or near the top of the world rankings, things would have been a lot tougher. Getting to the top might be hard, but staying there is a nightmare. Now, with England well and truly in the basement, McCullum’s only way is up. And he kicks off with a Test against his homeland, New Zealand, at Lord’s next month.

You hope that sooner or later he finds room for the wonderfully talented if momentarily confused (about Test cricket anyway) Jos Buttler. McCullum might also ask why so many English pace bowlers are crocked (Wood, Archer, Mahmood, Woakes, Fisher, assorted Currans) and what should be done about it. Ironically, the two oldest – Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson – haven’t pulled up lame. At this rate Darren Gough might want to start polishing his boots.

McCullum might be slightly unproven as a red-ball coach (to the extent that he has never taken charge of a first-class match) but by all accounts he is, like any Kiwi worth his salt, a first-class boozer, which should have been qualification enough for Key and captain Ben Stokes, who has considerable form in that regard. So no wonder that one of the first items on the agenda at their recent get-together was the abolition of the players’ midnight curfew. Watch this space, even if with some apprehension.

With the start of the French Open this weekend, it’s going to be possible for the wider tennis world to check out the lavishly talented Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spaniard who those in the know say is even better than Rafa Nadal. But he really deserves comparison with Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer, his childhood idol.

Currently ranked sixth in the world, he should go higher after Roland Garros. He has already won four titles this year, beating Djokovic (world no. 1), Nadal (no. 2) and Sascha Zverev (no. 3) on the way. Alcaraz has cemented his place in the tennis elite thanks to his remarkable technique, superb decision-making and explosive speed. He might only be 19 but he has the physique and mental strength of a 25-year-old.

His savage forehand can overpower opponents – or open them up to devastating drop shots – while he defends exceptionally well on both wings. Even his serve, though not huge, is hard to exploit, given his precocious volleying skills and ability to kick the ball high at his opponent’s weak spot. If anyone can seize the baton from the big three, it is this mesmerising young man. He can still be found at 9/4 for the French, which sounds pretty tasty to me.

Amid the current tornado of sport, you might have overlooked the extraordinary achievement of British mountaineer Kenton Cool, who has just completed his record--breaking 16th ascent of Mount Everest. You might also have thought it was hard to top Kenton Cool as a name. Well, his wife may have managed it: she is called Jazz Black. They met in Chamonix and now live very happily in Gloucestershire.

Sebastian Vettel popped up on Question Time the other day. He might have looked like he had just come from three days at Glastonbury, but he spoke effortless good sense (in his second language) and is clearly in touch with the real world, unlike some multiple world championship winners. And unlike many guests on Question Time. No Met Gala or tattoo parlours for Seb. A future chancellor?

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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