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PARIS: World number three Carlos Alcaraz returns to the French Open hoping to banish memories of the severe cramps that stopped his title charge in 2023 but will first need to address doubts caused by a recent injury when he plays J.J. Wolf on Sunday.

Alcaraz’s semi-final last year with eventual Roland Garros champion Novak Djokovic was billed as a clash of titans but finished in anticlimactic fashion when the 21-year-old Spaniard broke down in front of stunned fans on Philippe Chatrier court.

Back at the same venue, Alcaraz is pain-free again after a right forearm injury forced him out of Monte Carlo and Barcelona and derailed his Madrid title defence but the Spaniard still has lingering doubts.

“I’m not feeling any pain in practice, when I step on the court. But I’m still thinking about it when hitting forehands. I’m a little bit scared about hitting every forehand 100%,” said Alcaraz, who also skipped the Italian Open in Rome in the lead-up to Roland Garros.

“I come to this tournament with not as many matches as I wanted, but I’m focusing on the practice… I’m getting rhythm, I’m getting confidence in practice that is really important and I think I don’t need too many matches to get to 100%.”

Wolf has never gone past the first round of the French Open and the world number 107 could be just what the doctor ordered for Alcaraz, who will hope to make a flying start in his quest for a third Grand Slam title.

Alcaraz out of Italian Open with continuing forearm pain

Several other big names also get their campaigns underway, with four-times major champion Naomi Osaka opening proceedings on the main showcourt against Italian Lucia Bronzetti. Clay has never been former world number one Osaka’s best surface and the Japanese player who made her comeback this year after a maternity break is jittery.

“I know anyone that’s playing this tournament is a really tough opponent. Plus it’s a first round of a Grand slam,” Osaka told reporters. “I’m usually nervous during those first-round matches. So I’m going in there trying my best and seeing if all the lessons I’ve learned so far have adapted me into a better player.”

Jelena Ostapenko will look to continue her strong start to the season when she plays Jaqueline Cristian while fellow former champion Stan Wawrinka will take on 2016 runner-up Andy Murray in the evening session for a spot in the second round.

French fans will hope to have plenty of reason to cheer with the likes of Caroline Garcia, Ugo Humbert and Richard Gasquet in action on the opening day.

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