28 Comments
Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

This was a champion's victory from Carlos. He found solutions to problems and amped up his quality of play in the right moments. And he managed an injury. If we look back to those first three rounds, he was probing his arm's ability, holding back and finding other ways to win.

I think the Wimbledon run taught him almost everything he needs to know about winning a slam. The challenge for Carlos is remembering that. He can, at times, get a little distracted with his abilities and lose sight of the control he has over his game.

If he takes a few lessons from this FO run, I think it's that he has gotten even better at switching tactics from point-to-point, maybe even within points. It's not game to game or set to set, the guy picks up and drops tools as easily as I've ever seen in the game.

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

Hi Hugh,

Great analysis, as always. Hope the final steps of your thesis go smoothly.

While Alcaraz’s genius and mentality was in full display in that 5th set, I think part of it is just that he is an ever so slightly better player, with a margin that, with a margin in those slower conditions that would have needed Zverev to overperform / hit a purple patch, which is just so hard to do in the moment of truth of a slam final .

If you look at that match overall (and that ended up transpiring in that 4th and 5th) I felt Alcaraz was the better player, and Zverev lacked some volleys and FH ability that, as you said in this write up, if it was always like that, would lead him to greatness. But it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, Carlos hit a rough patch too in those 2nd and 3rd, but you felt like he could turn the screws. In my opinion, while the decisive breaks came in thanks to Alcaraz’s incredible defensive creativity and Zverev’s shaky volleys, the biggest edge was that Alcaraz was producing so much more with his FH, and allowing a gap to build up that was bigger than what Zverev got off the BH. Coming in to this tournament and up until this final (because that Sinner - Alcaraz match didn’t reassure me) I was concerned about Carlitos forearm, but today he hit the FH at full capacity and that was key. Zverev’s didn’t necessarily break down, he is just not that error prone, but the offense and creation gap was so so big. 5th set had Alcaraz at 8 FH winners to Zverev’s 0.

Add that Zverev lost the first set due to many FH passivity problems and was just bothered all the way by Alcaraz’s variety (contrary to AO where Carlos gave him rythm), had trouble killing his +1s, had trouble returning a lot deuce wide serves, that just compounds. You can’t hide forever.

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

I've always thought of Zverev's game like an army behind a wall waiting out a siege. He lobs bomb serves and sits back, defending with his backhand and doing just enough with his forehand until you sort of give up and increase your risk. I do think the serve on clay is a little less potent than it is on hardcourt.

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That's a good analogy. In MMA, you could say he is in the mold of someone who does the "lay-and-pray", trying to take fighters to the ground and thwart their more aggressive attacks.

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Agree, there is no hiding out there. In the second it looked like Zverev actually got the better of Alcaraz in the forehand battle, but you're right; reversion to the mean is always likely to occur in five-set tennis.

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

Another part of the match that I didn't realize until this morning, after listening to Gil Gross, is Carlos' commitment to the bh line shot. He was incredibly disciplined about keeping the ball on Zverev' forehand side. And part of this strategy asked Carlos to step off his traditional ad-side inside-out forehand attack. I could be mistaken, but I think he fell into this trap too much in Australia against Zverev. Carlos played really neutral in this match. I wonder if the arm injury forced him to trust his backhand more.

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He was great at doing that, and overall just showed a level of patience that is far from his usual tendency. A shapeshifter, this kid.

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

Appreciate the mention Hugh! Great work as always

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

A great read as always, but I'm really only here for 'vials of pickle juice'.

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Jun 10·edited Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

Amazing read as always!

Quick question unrelated to this final: Would you ever be interested in covering the top players in the WTA? Nobody covers their groundstroke technique and it could explain a lot of what's going on in the WTA, such as why Swiatek has been so dominant lately on clay and if she'll keep it up for grass or hard court, what's made the recent WTA top dogs so consistent, the whole idea of "rock paper scissors" between Swiatek, Sabalenka, and Rybakina, etc. No need to answer now, by any means, but it would be really nice to see you cover some of the womens' players at some point!

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author

Yes, I am planning on adding that more once my studies finish -- the fact that the women play the day before the men will mean two late nights in a row instead of one! Something I can't do just yet with how busy I am, but you're right, there are drafts in my substack comparing the forehands of those you mentioned (along with Coco Gauff).

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

Another point to remember:

-Carlos played on clay 8 times this year before the French Open.

-3 times in Buenos Aires, 1 time in Rio

-4 times in Madrid

That's it.

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Jun 11Liked by Hugh Clarke

I hope you go on for your PhD. Also Andrea Petkovic former pro has a great Substack. And often does a podcast with Renae Stubbs breaking down the ATP and WTA.

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

I think part of the problem for Zverev in the 4th and 5th sets is that he began approaching the net more, but without conviction and without the skill necessary to handle many of Alcaraz's superb passing shots.

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It's a shame he isn't better at doing this. His wingspan is an under-developed advantage. Also, his brother was GREAT at the net. Strange.

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True. I think he needs to play more doubles, because as you say, with his huge wingspan, he could do a lot more with it. If he does develop his net game more, he would have a much better chance at Wimbledon for example.

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There was a point in the match where Zverev hit an amazing bh cross that pulled Carlos way off the court. Zverev chose not to follow the ball into the net. Carlos would have raced forward for sure. McEnroe on the broadcast was aghast that Zverev didn't follow. Carlos dug out a slice and won the point on the next shot.

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That tactical change, I think you can chalk it up to him fading physically. But shortening points has never been Zverev's forte, unless he can get an immediate advantage from the serve/return, which he wasn't getting consistently.

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Jun 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

Nice one Clarke.

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author

Send me a video of your backhand Tearney, can give it the old comparison with Alcaraz ;)

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One thing that I am increasingly feeling is that some of Alcaraz's touch is net negative, at least locally. He usually hits the dropshot from a winning position, off the forehand, and I think (although I am not confident) that his conversion rate of attacking points is higher when he just hits the forehand. This is estimated extremely imprecisely based off of the level of anxiety that I have when he chooses the drop shot.

It's hard to estimate how much global effect the lack of rhythm his unpredictability gives the opponent though. It kind of reminds me of this Tal quote concerning his brand of chess:

"You must take your opponent into a deep, dark forest where 2+2=5 and the path leading out is only wide enough for one."

For Alcaraz, the forest is pretty spectacular. But the moonballs and drop shots and shifting return positions are pretty far away from classical percentage tennis, and towards a path only wide enough for one.

Good luck on your thesis!

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Jun 11Liked by Hugh Clarke

I definitely feel that lately he likes to go for some half-hearted half-volleys (especially at the net) that end up as weak sitters his opponent can punish, and similarly for some approaches to dropshots and short balls. Not the worst play (at least better than an error) if you're rushed or if the opponent is displaced, but in some occasions he has the time and/or court position to upgrade these balls to a better shot. It's like his body ocasionally yields to the desire to play a padel point, see where it goes and improvise something later instead of going for the punch or the killing blow.

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Worth noting that research (at least that I heard at a recent coaching event) is that the short volley is the most effective in men's tennis, probably because players (a) approach well enough and deep enough; (b) because players are better lateral movers than north-south movers; and (c) because it forces a lot of two-handers (i.e., basically everyone) to take a hand off the racquet, or to play more slice passing shot attempts when dropped to the backhand. Alcaraz nearly always goes short, backs his touch.

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Yeah, nothing to complain when he drops it short (he's superb at that); the ones that are less convincing to me are deeper half-volleys without pace or backspin or high-bouncers. Nevertheless, I'm convinced he'll tighten that aspect as he gets competitive rhythm again, since he has shown good touch and instincts over and over.

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I think where Carlos' loses some value on his drop shots it's on hardcourt. But I do think his upper-middle pace rally forehand is helping to create more range of shots for him. Two years ago when that article was written, he was basically oscillating between hammer of the gods forehand and drop shots. Today, he can throw in the upper-mid rally fh with depth, the looping off-pace ball, more bh slice than I've seen from in a while, fh and bh bombs (particularly after a slow looper) when needed, and use the drop shot to punish a defensive player with great lateral movement.

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He's definitely got a much wider aresenal these day: that's a good point. I just wonder whether it's too much on the margin, especially while attacking. He's just got an excellent approach forehand and backhand, and excellent volleys. But again I just don't know how much these shots are made more effective by his other variety.

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Great analysis as always! The great players now have three backhands. But everyone was drooling over a shot that almost every player with a one handed BH has hit. It’s like being impressed by someone who can drive a stick shift. :)

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