July 16, 2024
Carlos Alcaraz

French Open Champion Carlos Alcaraz looks to carry his clay success into the grass season.

Carlos Alcaraz, the defending Wimbledon champion, returns as the favorite for the 2024 title, showcasing his fearless and versatile game that includes daring drop shots and a remarkable all-surface prowess
Wimbledon final of 2023. After scores are tied two sets each, Carlos Alcaraz is up 5-4 in the fifth set against Novak Djokovic and is serving for the match. During the first point, he plays a risky drop shot which runs into the net. He is down 0-15.

Any other player trying to close out a title in a major final against a serial champion like Djokovic would have probably played the next point safe. After a brief rally, Alcaraz tries the drop shot again, which Djokovic returns, only to follow with a winning lob. “How cheeky is that!” exclaims the commentator.

With a repertoire of outrageous shots, an attitude of complete fearlessness and a steadily improving range of skills, Alcaraz can both be cheeky and astonishingly effective on a tennis court. He won that five-set thriller last year, his first Wimbledon title, and the 21-year-old now returns to the scene of his triumph, as not just the defending champion but an even better player.

His Wimbledon victory was a bit against the grain, considering Alcaraz had arrived for the 2023 grass court season with only four career match wins on the surface. He went on to win 12 consecutive matches, lifting titles at the Queen’s Club and at Wimbledon in the process, to bust any questions over his grass court capabilities. His success had been surprising also because weeks prior to that, he had famously crashed in the French Open final, wilting away without much of a fight against Djokovic.

If Alcaraz was expected to be like other Spanish tennis champions—barring Rafael Nadal—an expert on clay and barely a contender on any other surface, then that presumption has been shattered. Five of the eight Spanish men to win a Grand Slam before Nadal, including Alcaraz’s coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, did so only at Roland Garros. With the French Open title this year—to add to his 2022 US Open—Alcaraz also became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam title on all three surfaces, hard, grass and clay.

The world No.3 ranked player goes into this year’s Championships as the favourite, a testament to how far he has come.

“I think grass is so suited to Alcaraz’s game because he can improvise, be flexible, and show the variety in his game,” says former Wimbledon champion and ESPN commentator Chris Evert over a tournament preview media call.

That drop shot, one of his favoured choices of play and usually a perilous offering, remains a potent weapon, as evidenced from the final at Roland Garros a few weeks ago. Against Alexander Zverev, Alcaraz used the shot much more tactically, far more successfully than the German could on a surface that’s slower than grass. But the point of the tournament, which came in the third game of the fifth set, showed Alcaraz’s prowess from the baseline, as he kept the ball in play even as Zverev smashed it repeatedly.
Alcaraz’s start to the grass court season this year has been less than ideal—he lost to local favourite Jack Draper in straight sets in the pre-quarter-finals of the cinch Championships at Queen’s Club last week. The loss may indicate that Alcaraz is still a work in progress on grass courts, because his 17-3 win-loss record includes the 12 straight wins from last year.

But an Infosys-ATP Beyond the Numbers study found that Alcaraz won his opening match of the cinch Championships against Francisco Cerundolo with match metrics similar to his successful 2023 campaign, indicating good form. The ATP website reported how Alcaraz won 39 points to 33 in the 0-4 shot rally length, made 81% of forehands in the court and held serve nine times out of 10.

If Alcaraz has the best odds of winning at Wimbledon, his closest competitor would be Jannik Sinner. The Italian world No.1 is the Australian Open champion and trails 4-5 in career wins against Alcaraz. But the last—and only—time these two played at Wimbledon, fourth round of 2022, Sinner won in four sets.

Last Sunday, Sinner won a lead up tournament to Wimbledon in Halle, Germany, beating Hubert Hurkacz in the final. It was Sinner’s first title on grass, with the 22-year-old having had better success on hard courts.

“I couldn’t believe how hard he (Sinner) was hitting the ball at the French Open,” adds Evert. “He pops that ball, and has power. He’s really improved his movement in and out of the corners, the way he was sliding on the clay in and out of the corners. He’s really being forced to come into the net a lot more, and he’s working on his all-court game.”

When Sinner and Alcaraz played the second longest match in US Open history in 2022 for 5 hours, 15 minutes , they slugged away relentlessly in a high-quality contest that, according to Spanish player Feliciano Lopez, looked like a table tennis match. Alcaraz prevailed then, but the indications were clear that this will be the next big rivalry in the men’s game.

“Right now you’ve got Alcaraz and Sinner as heavy favorites. Alcaraz is a slight favorite. Sinner is just right behind him, extremely close. Then there’s a big dropoff with Novak as the third guy,” says ESPN commentator and former player Patrick McEnroe over a media call.

Djokovic, recovering from a knee surgery that took him out of the French Open, will be in London this week but is unsure of playing at Wimbledon. At 37, with each passing tournament, his target of a record 25 Grand Slam singles titles gets increasingly difficult. Even if he does play, so soon after the surgery, he is unlikely to be at his very best.

World rankings put Zverev (No.4) and Daniil Medvedev (No.5) in contention but the German has never been past the fourth round here while the Russian has been to the semi-final once (2023) where he faced a bruising defeat from Alcaraz.

There are other outsiders who have a shot at the title, including Matteo Berrettini, a former finalist; Hurkacz, the last player to beat Roger Federer (in Wimbledon 2021); big-hitting Americans Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul, who won at Queen’s Club on Sunday.

But the player to watch will be Alcaraz, with his all-surface game, infectious on-court enthusiasm and the sheer joy with which he plays. After he lost to Alcaraz in the French Open quarter-finals last month, Stefanos Tsitsipas compared him to Djokovic in the way he is able to change direction and construct points with a “great tennis IQ”.

“The kid is too good,” he said.

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