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Tennis: Alcaraz aims to fill Nadal void

This year's edition of the ATP Barcelona Open will be missing its most decorated player Rafael Nadal, but that opens the door for new talents to step up to the plate on the red clay.

Twelve-time winner Nadal will be missing in Barcelona due to a rib injury, while Hubert Hurkacz, Jannik Sinner and Denis Shapovalov are also set to miss the ATP 500 event, which is among the oldest on the circuit - having first taken place in 1953.

Tsitsipas heads the Barca field

As a result, Monte Carlo Masters finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas is top seed and the Greek has looked in great shape recently and is 6/1 to secure the Barcelona title.

Tsitsipas defeated Alexander Zverev and Diego Schwartzman on his way to the Monte Carlo final and was progressing nicely at the Miami Open before he encountered Carlos Alcaraz, who went on to win the Florida title.

There will be many eyes on Alcaraz (5/4) - considered the heir to Nadal's throne - as he returns to home soil, but he will need to get back to form quickly after following his Miami title with a swift exit in Monte Carlo.

The other top-four seeds are Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Cameron Norrie.

Casper's game in Ruud health

Ruud - 4/1 to win the Barcelona Open - in particular is enjoying a decent clay-court campaign, having finished as runner-up at the Miami Open recently after winning the Argentina Open in February, having defeated three Argentinians on his way to the title.

Having experience of overcoming home talents should stand him in good stead in Barcelona, where there will be some decent Spaniards on display including Alcaraz, Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos Vinolas. Robert Bautista Agut was also due to be involved but has since withdrawn.

Swiatek out to extend winning run

There is also a key clay-court event on the WTA Tour starting this week in the form of the WTA Stuttgart.

Iga Swiatek will be the one everyone is monitoring in Germany with the Pole travelling to the event as world number one.

It is a well-deserved title with the Pole having won each of her last three tournaments in Miami, Indian Wells and Qatar.

In the process, she has racked up 17 straight victories on the tour and it is no surprise to see the red-hot talent rated 5/2 to win the French Open later this season.

Badosa hopes to rival Swiatek

Swiatek's closest competitors at the indoor clay event are likely to be Paula Badosa and Aryna Sabalenka, two of the other top seeds.

Badosa is in fairly decent form with runs to the quarter-finals of the Miami Open and semi-finals at Indian Wells recently, while Sabalenka finished runner-up to Ashleigh Barty in this tournament in 2021.

Among the other talking points in Stuttgart is the return of Bianca Andreescu who is set to play in her first tournament of the season after accepting a wildcard entry.

Punters should also look out for Ons Jabeur, who is fresh from making the Charleston final recently, while Emma Raducanu is set to make her first clay-court appearance on the WTA Tour.

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