After falling behind at the French Open last month, Carlos Alcaraz took some time to rest and then took the next step toward strengthening one of the few remaining weaknesses in his tennis development – playing on grass.
For the 20-year-old world No. 1 Alcaraz, it means getting enough training sessions and matches on a surface that is at the same time one of the most traditional and most bizarre in the sport. It also meant hours and hours of watching videos of two-time Wimbledon champion and one of the masters of grass court tennis, Andy Murray.
On a day of rain that caused almost every match on the two covered courts at the All England Club to be canceled or suspended, Alcaraz showed that his homework was paying off, and Murray gave the young Spaniard a set of study materials. Provided new batch. ,
Alcaraz has never progressed past the round of 16 at Wimbledon, but he has left no doubt about his goals for his third round at the most respected tennis event.
“To win the tournament,” he said after defeating Jeremy Chardy of France 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. “I’m very confident right now.”
The afternoon game against Chardy, who has announced that he plans to retire after this tournament, will certainly help. There was little chance that at 36, ranked 542 in the world and with only one Tour-level win this year, Chardy would pose much of a challenge to Alcaraz.
But for Alcaraz, who grew up playing mostly on red clay, the significance of the day did not come from his opponent’s difficulty. This came from spending more time on the game’s most attractive surface. With each match at Wimbledon, Alcaraz moves closer to the inevitable – when the most talented young player becomes as good on grass as he is everywhere else.
This is where you get a chance to watch Murray’s videos. Alcaraz knows how to hit a tennis ball as hard as anyone, and his drop shot is just as good on clay and hard courts. He is also the fastest player in the game, especially on clay and hard courts. But he has said that he needs to learn how to adapt his pace and his shots to the grass.
Few players have shown how to do better than Murray, who won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016, and beat partner Ryan Peniston 6-3, 6-0, 6-1 on Tuesday afternoon. Defeated and showed. Briton.
Of course, there are others who have conquered the grass, namely Roger Federer, who won a record eight men’s singles titles at Wimbledon and celebrated his afternoon in the front row of the royal box with Princess Catherine of Wales. Spent talking quietly. With a video and a standing ovation. Alcaraz has also studied his matches.
And then there’s Novak Djokovic, who has won the last four singles titles here, seven overall, and is on a 29-match Wimbledon win streak. The problem with studying Djokovic is that he moves on grass differently than everyone else.
Djokovic has learned to glide and slide as if he were on clay or hard courts. When other people try to play that way, they often end up with back or groin strains. It is a style of grass court tennis that should come with a “don’t try this” warning.
Alcaraz didn’t. Not on the way to the title at the grass court tuneup at Queen’s Club two weeks ago, or against Chardy on Tuesday, when he showed plenty of signs of his Murray/Federer emulation game.
Alcaraz took the balls a little early, a necessary move because they barely bounced on the grass. His pace slowed and he turned with a series of rapid stuttering steps instead of his usual lightning-fast plant-and-pivot. He demonstrated his superior serve, hitting 10 aces, many of which slid out of the court, including a final ace into the deep-wide corner of the service box on match point, before Chardy made a move. slipped.
“Every time I step on the court, it makes me better,” he said at the end of the match. “I get more experience which is really, really important on that surface.”
Murray does not lack for experience on grass and has almost always looked at ease at the All England Club, making it past the third round on his main draw debut in 2005 when he was just 18. Tuesday’s win over Peniston provided plenty of grass court study tips.
Alcaraz often talks about how he wants to start every match aggressively. Murray showed that on grass, aggression can take many forms beyond Alcaraz’s crushing forehand.
He played a blocked backhand return across the court to set up a passing shot and sent a drop volley almost over the edge. In some rallies, he made several strokes that passed close to the top of the net and slid down as soon as they landed on the grass. While Peniston was at the net, a passing shot went to his feet as if he had fallen off a table as it passed over the tape. It was all over in two hours and one minute, one of Murray’s easier days on Center Court, although he admitted to feeling nervous at the start.
“I like to feel like,” he said, “if I was going out on the court feeling flat, when I was out there with no emotion, that’s something that would probably be a little bit wrong.” “
When Peniston made his final error, Murray celebrated with a slight nod to the crowd.
He said that the last time Federer saw him was in the first round of the 2012 Olympics on Center Court, when Federer was cheering on Stan Wawrinka, his countryman and Murray’s rival that day.
Murray said, “I’m glad to get some applause today.”
Murray skipped the French Open to begin preparing for Wimbledon, a tournament he believes gives him the best chance to play in the second week.
Those prospects are likely to improve on Tuesday when the match between their potential opponents, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem, was suspended shortly after Thiem won the first set. They will likely resume on Wednesday, with the winner taking on Murray on Center Court on Thursday.
Murray said that he does not study draws, preferring to focus only on his next match rather than waste time on speculations. If he did, he would have found a potential opponent in the semi-finals who would be familiar with his moves.
That would be Alcaraz.