As a preview to the 2022 Miami Open final between Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud, I want to share the first time I saw Carlos Alcaraz play live.
DATE: August 24, 2021
LOCATION: Wake Forest University
EVENT: ATP250 Winston-Salem Open, North Carolina
It’s a warm, sticky evening on the campus of Wake Forest University. Carlos Alcaraz is ranked #73 in the world and is playing in the Winston-Salem Open, which is the week before the US Open. He has not yet set the tennis world on fire, but he is on everyone’s radar. On May 15th, just three months earlier, he was ranked outside the Top 100.
He is coming hard.
It’s the first round of the tournament and I am coaching his opponent, Alexei Popyrin. I started as Alexei’s coach the week before in Cincinnati.
Carlos won a superb, well-fought match 6-7(9), 6-1, 7-6(1). The victory was impressive. What I saw from his game was spectacular.
Let’s start with this gif below of a 2nd serve return. Watch it a few times and then I am going to give you specific things to focus on.
2021 Winston-Salem Open: Carlos Alcaraz 2nd Serve Return (1)
- Shoes – Only look at his shoes. The footwork reminds me of Roger Federer. Simple, clean, and floating above the surface of the court. He is 100% organized with his split steps and adjusting steps. So nimble. No heavy steps into the cement court. Ankles doing a lot of the work.
- Head – Now focus only on his head. It’s so still. His eyes quickly lock in on contact then he is looking down the court for clues where the ball is coming back.
- Racquet – In the initial stage when he splits forward, it’s still and in front. Then the energy is sooooo clean through contact. It looks so effortless but the ball was coming off like a canon. Understand that he gave this return a ride. He hit it really well, but it looks like he did hardly anything at all.
- Court Position – Alcaraz moves forward the ideal distance to the baseline to return serve. Then he is so quick to get back a couple of steps to defend the next shot if need be. This is being a master of court position. He is not waiting for the ball to come to him and staying at the same distance from the baseline as his ready position and contact. He is forward then back. He is working hard but making it look easy.
This gif is pretty remarkable. It’s worth watching for a minute so that you get a deeper understanding of how freakishly good he is.
2021 Winston-Salem Open: Carlos Alcaraz 2nd Serve Return (2)
- Balance – he is going forward and back and up all at the same time. If he had a jug of water on his head, he would not spill a drop.
- Technique – Like Novak Djokovic, Alcaraz has mastered the simplest, most efficient swing path for a backhand. How in the world is this going to break down? It’s not is the short answer. It’s so fluid, so quick, and comes off like a rocket.
- Floating – Look at his right foot when he lands. Hardly any energy going into the court. His ankle controls the landing and quickly pushes off again, avoiding his whole foot going flat on the ground which would slow him down.
It’s tweener time.
Not only does he make this tweener, but he slides to a stop behind the baseline and is ready to sprint back to the net to get the drop shot.
The athleticism is off the charts. He is one of the quickest players to ever step foot on a tennis court. Period. And he can improvise. And he can chase balls down that you think he has no business chasing down.
The picture below is stunning in its simplicity. He is perfectlyyyy in place to hit this low backhand. Front knee bent at 90 degrees. Back knee bent at 90 degrees. His head is perfectly balanced. Contact was in the sweet spot of the racket.
Carlos Alcaraz is good because his preparation for the shot is other-worldly.
You can’t do any more to get into position than he is doing here. When you prepare this well for a shot, you literally can’t miss it. Nothing is left to chance here.
Carlos Alcaraz is a once-in-a-generation player. Cut from the same cloth as Roger, Novak, and Rafa.
His attitude is exemplary, just like Rafa.
His technique is clean and ruthlessly efficient, just like Novak.
He floats around the court and has amazing instincts, just like Roger.
While comparing him to the “Big 3” is a fair and accurate thing to do, it’s important to note that he is also none of them. He is Carlos, or “Carlito”. He is his own 18-year-old man and he stands on his own pedastal.
He is the future of our sport. He does not smash rackets or abuse umpires. His sportsmanship is superb. I had a wonderful talk with Carlos and his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, after the match. The match was incredibly close, until Alcaraz pulled away 7-1 in the 3rd-set tie-break. Carlos is a great kid and Juan Carlos is an ideal coach for him. An ideal pairing.
Alcaraz may or may not defeat Casper in the Miami final. But one thing is for sure. He is about to elevate the level of our global sport on his very own teenage shoulders.