wide forehands—adaptations—grass movement
This is the best writing on tennis I've seen in some time. Too often, the big writers/commentators/podcasters eschew technical analysis (bc they can't do it) in favor of narrative. That's all find and good, but this kind of smart tennis writing is really rewarding for fans who have a grasp on the game.
Suggestion for a future article: The gap between Alcaraz and the young field feels massive now. I'd love to see some analysis on how Sinner/Tsitsipas/Zverev/Rune etc. lack adaptability. So much talent and athleticism but seemingly so little intelligence/nuance to their games.
The consistency bump on Alcaraz's groundstrokes was essential, especially in the irregular conditions of the final. Great analysis and focus on the forehand adaptations to improve ball control on the run instead of out-blasting Djokovic (as we saw in the RG duel, you're absolutely not going to have a fun time trying to overpower Novak with raw strength). I could feel not just the technical changes and the talent to adapt to the conditions, but also the grit that it takes to keep executing these controlling 60%-70% power shots when you know that you're likely receiving another corner / court-side pressure shot when the ball comes back. After a few seconds in that situation, the average player can feel the temptation of a desperate low-percentage bailout shot emerging in their mind from the pressure and exertion.
I think the backhand side also was better than usual in analogous fashion. He did not overhit that much and even when he was putting more power in them it was in the form of extra linear speed/acceleration/pushing with the whole chain instead of "rotational whippyness" at the end, producing safe high-margin aggression instead of blazing balls smoking the grass somewhere near the corner of the court. Again, great preparation and execution since control, consistency and direction are dangerous enough on their own in grass (as proved by the regular Djokovic sweep after the Fed era).
At a few critical moments in the match, we could also see the champion factor, the seventh gear, the ability to execute the impossible when no other option is left. And the heroics adapted as well; they were there not just in the form of side-to-side hopeless chasing sprints (though there a few of those as well), but also as a set-winning outside-in stretched backhand return or as a flying drop volley when serving for the win. That's stuff from myths and legends.
Fantastic write up. I especially love the distinction you made on movement adjustment by carlos between grass and clay. I’m privy to the theme of “trade-offs” for swing mechanics but the footwork adjustments fit that theme as well. I had never even considered that until today and I love that I always learn something from your articles.
Hugh, incredible write up as always. I really look forward to your analysis after a huge match like this. It's an immediate read as soon as it hits the inbox. I humbly request a specific point analysis of the Alcaraz drop shot at 4-4 in the second set tiebreak. As you point out to that point the drop shot wasn't working too well and if he misses it it's probably match with Djokovic serving for a 2-0 lead up 5-4 in the tiebreak. I feel like it perfectly encapsulates the player and the match. Just an incredible (and a touch insane) shot there IMHO.
Pre-match, I tweeted that one of the keys for Djokovic to win would be to lock Alcaraz in BH jail and slowly push him back/wide in trademark fashion. Suffice to say, Carlos's BH held up incredibly well under such pressure. Eventually it was enough.
You mentioned that this match wasn't that great in terms of quality, and it got me really curious. I'd love it if you could suggest some matches off the top of your head that you consider top-quality, just to check them out and be blown away. Anyway, thanks for such a lovely article as always!
Great as always, loved the clay-grass FH footwork comparison. From a general standpoint, I loved watching Carlos adapt throughout the 2nd & 3rd sets. I gave as much credit in my own write-up to how willing he was to eventually accept and manage the pressure going into his FH in a way you rarely see from him to this extent, particularly against players who know how to restrict his overall game.
I think Carlos' constant adjustments did so much to take the wind out of Novak's sails. He was redirecting against mid-length trades (even ones with pace) supremely. He soaked up FH pressure knowing he could back himself defensively against any resulting weaker balls. He eventually looped his FH dtl also, which pinned the deuce court open and reduced Novak's power into and willingness to go to that pressure-able wing because his own short-angle shot was too much for Novak to retrieve.
There was so much of that on the BH side, as well, which prevented him from being coaxed into the same easily-drawn errors as in the 1st set. Not just refusing to miss but finding ways to draw errors and limit the pressure into his FH by centralising mid-BH trade (heavy or sliced) to either get inside-in (more top-spin) balls into his FH (instead of the harder, more precise BH redirects), or to make Novak continuously pull up on his BH across. And, if/when his resulting trade did come up short, it was feeding that dtl laser Carlos was doing serious damage with from a higher-margin position (again, too much for even Novak's FH to absorb).
Well said, very good take on the match Hugh. It is certainly good to see someone stand up to the Big 3. They seem to have already destroyed 2 generation of players, Alcaraz well done. And JCF the perfect coach/mentor. JCF deserves a lot of credit
One thing I think Alcaraz did (might be completely imagining this) is relax a lot more during Djokovic's serve routine. Djokovic's routine is long, but also he varies the number of bounces. I think a lot of players are intensely concentrating on Djokovic the whole way through his routine, and by the time he serves they have already been concentrating for ~20 seconds. Alcaraz was chilling right up to near the ball toss which I think helps. This is all pure vibes analysis though unlike what Hugh produces.
Great Stuff!!! Your article reinforces a point I have been thinking about a lot lately. The problem with modern tennis is that it got rid of all the natural materials. People play on synthetic surfaces, with synthetic rackets and synthetic strings. They are used to hitting the perfect ball over and over again. Grass and clay make you adapt. The old wood rackets made you adapt. The gut strings were finicky. Uncle Toni had Rafa practice on courts with holes. Nole practiced in a swimming pool. Fed probably played with wood as a kid.
Alcaraz is a throwback like all great champions. You have to be able to play the whole court and improvise. Those who tried to conquer the big three did not. Thiem, Tsitsipas, Zverevev, and Shapo to some extent all had major deficiencies. Their game was not well rounded. How is it that Tsitispas and Shapo don't have a great slice? Alcaraz plays like a 20 year old used to play not like they play today.
Exceptional , in-depth analysis !! Glad I found your content . The generic, on-the-surface match reviews have gotten me bored and frustrated . You are the best !! Thanks
The most impressive for me was the BH side from Carlos. Novak came with a pretty clear strategy for me: Attack Carlitos on the BH side. And surprisingly the ball came back with some quality that he didnt expect. World class Slices, BH DTL, BH CC, with great angles. The two most important points in the match for me, the 30-40 0-1 on fifth, and the 1-1 30-40 on fifth too, show that. Evolve - Adapt - COJONES!
Been waiting on this, gonna read once I get home.