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Advanced Edition: Carlos Alcaraz closes in on Wimbledon redemption
The man many expected to walk away with the Roland Garros title is back to his world-beating best on grass; can the Spanish teen capture his first major title before the tour leaves Europe after all?
Published Jul 03, 2022
WATCH: Alcaraz is rounding into form with no sets dropped since his five-set thriller against Jan-Lennard Struff.
Few would have been surprised to see a Spaniard win Roland Garros at the end of last month, but most predicted teen titan Carlos Alcaraz would be the one hoisting his first major trophy after a triumphant spring campaign saw him capture Masters 1000 titles in Miami and Madrid.
Order was instead restored when Rafael Nadal won his 14th French Open and Alcaraz endured a deeply shocking quarterfinal exit to Alexander Zverev in a rematch of their Mutua Madrid Open final.
Expectations quickly cratered ahead of his return to Wimbledon and went through the basement when the 19-year-old was seen sporting heavy strapping around his right forearm and elbow. But from near disaster in his first round against Jan-Lennard Struff, Alcaraz, who has downgraded the strapping to a compression sleeve, has evidently been well-managed by coach Juan Carlos Ferrero as he climbed back into contention. Looking far stronger after straight-set wins over both Tallon Griekspoor and No. 32 seed Oscar Otte, he booked booked a fourth-round clash with fellow young star Jannik Sinner.
With a possible quarterfinal against top seed Novak Djokovic looming, might Alcaraz make good at a major slightly later than expected?
Here’s why—and why not:
Every match is a war, let's say. Every match you can play unbelievable or you can play your worst match. Carlos Alcaraz
Why He'll Win
Not all forehands are created for all surfaces. For example, Casper Ruud found out the hard way that though his heavy topspin effectively kicks up on clay, his signature weapon is all but neutralized on clay, paving the way for an untimely upset at the hands of a slumping Ugo Humbert.
Alcaraz, by contrast, possesses a weight of shot that can penetrate a low-bouncing court and give him the necessary depth to command a baseline rally. His backhand is similarly strong, combining with his forehand to provide opponents with precious few opportunities to capitalize on a short ball.
The No. 5 seed has undeniably brought an aggressive mindset to grass; even as he struggled against Struff, Alcaraz dictated play through all five sets to end the match with 73 winners to 40 unforced errors, and has maintained a positive differential through all three rounds. Against Otte—who took Andy Murray to five sets at Wimbledon last year—he made only eight unforced errors to a whopping 37 winners and lost just five points behind his first serve.
Grass rewards variety as much as offense, and Alcaraz has that too in spades—not to mention a mind-blowing athleticism and preternatural comfort moving around the surface.
“Every match is a war, let's say,” Alcaraz mused in press. “Every match you can play unbelievable or you can play your worst match. Obviously on Monday was my first match on grass. It was really tough. Struff play unbelievable. I mean, in four, five days the training, the matches, you learn how to play more on grass, how to move more on grass. Of course, in every match you play against different player. Maybe one player is tougher to you, and the other player is more easier, let's say.
“But now I feel more comfortable play on grass, and I feel better on grass right now.”
Why He Won't
Easy as it is to get excited, Alcaraz had all heading into Paris plus an impressive clay-court resume, and it still couldn’t guarantee him a major victory.
Natural as he looks on grass, one must remember this is only his second tournament ever on the surface; the first was last year at Wimbledon, when he was a lowly main-draw wild card. A lack of experience should quickly become someone else’s problem, but it appeared to haunt him against Zverev in Paris; can he apply that loss to what would be a monumental 96 hours?
Though he’s never lost to next opponent Sinner in two previous meetings, his projected quarterfinal against Djokovic is the match everyone wants to see again. The former world No. 1 was well below his best when the last played in Madrid and he nonetheless hung with Alcaraz into a final-set tiebreaker. Djokovic has looked markedly better in the weeks since, roaring to a title in Rome and narrowly losing to Nadal in Paris.
Playing at a tournament he’s won six times—including the last three—the Serb is the overwhelming favorite, and will be eager to not only avenge that defeat but also reaffirm that he is the man to beat in what could likely be his final major appearance of the season.
Sinner, too, should prove no slouch: the Italian has reached two major quarterfinals of his own and defeated two experienced foes in Stan Wawrinka and John Isner en route to the second week.
“Outside the court we have a good relationship,” Alcaraz said of Sinner. “I mean, I talk to him. When I see him in the locker room, off the court, I make some jokes.”
But can Carlitos be the last one laughing at tournament’s end? It all depends on how he plays these next few matches.