After a short break at last month’s French Open, Carlos Alcaraz has embarked on the next step in bolstering one of the few remaining weaknesses in tennis’ development: playing on grass.
For Alcaraz, the 20-year-old No. 1 player in the world, that meant plenty of training sessions and matches on some of the sport’s most traditional but also weirdest surfaces. He also had to watch hours of video of Andy Murray, a two-time Wimbledon champion and one of the masters of grass-court tennis.
On a day when rain fell and nearly every game that wasn’t played on the All England Club’s two covered courts was canceled or suspended, Alcaraz showed the homework had paid off and Murray gave the young Spaniard a fresh start. provided learning materials. .
Alcaraz has never advanced past the round of 16 at Wimbledon, but leaves no doubt about his target for a third round in this most revered tennis tournament.
“It’s about winning the tournament,” he said after giving Jeremy Chardy (France) pound 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. “I am very confident now.”
Playing this afternoon with Chardy, who announced he planned to retire after this tournament, was sure to help. For the 36-year-old, ranked 542nd in the world and just one win at tour level this year, Chardy was unlikely to pose a major challenge.
But for Alcaraz, who grew up playing mostly red dirt, the value of the day didn’t come from the difficulty of his opponents. It comes from spending more time on the sport’s most attractive surfaces. Game after game at Wimbledon, Alcaraz is getting closer to the inevitable – when the most talented young players excel in every way on the grass as they do elsewhere.
Watching Murray’s video here is helpful. Alcaraz is stronger than anyone, knows how to hit a tennis ball better than anyone, and his drop shots are as good on clay or hard courts. He’s also pretty much the fastest player in the game, especially on clay and hard courts. But he said he needs to learn how to adapt his speed and shot repertoire to the grass.
Murray won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016 and showed why on Tuesday afternoon by crushing fellow Ryan Penniston 6-3, 6-0, 6-1. Beyond that, few players have shown how to do it well. he is british
Of course, there are others who have conquered turf. It’s Roger Federer. He won a record eight men’s singles titles at Wimbledon and spent the afternoon quietly chatting with Kate in the front row of the royal box after the celebrations. With video and standing ovation. Alcaraz is also studying his game.
And Novak Djokovic won his last four singles titles here, his seventh overall, and is on a 29-match winning streak at Wimbledon. The problem with studying Djokovic is that he moves differently on the grass than other players.
Djokovic somehow figured out how to slide and glide as if he were on clay or hard courts. When others try to play that way, they often end up on their backs or hurt their groins. This is a style of grass-court tennis that requires a “don’t do this” warning.
Alcaraz did not. He had no title shots in his grass-court warm-up at Queen’s Club two weeks ago and Tuesday’s win over Chardy, which showed plenty of signs of a copycat game between Murray and Federer.
Alcaraz received the ball just a little early, but it was a necessary move as it bounces very little on the grass. Instead of his usual lightning-quick plant-and-pivot, he slowed and turned in a series of quick staggering steps. He delivered an improved serve, hitting 10 aces, many of which slipped off the court. Among them was the final ace, smashed into the deep and wide corner of the service box on match point, which slid out of the court before Chardy could make a move.
“Every time I go out and play, it’s better for me,” he said after the game. “I was able to gain really, really important experience in that aspect.”
Murray has no shortage of turf experience and has almost always been comfortable playing for the All England Club, reaching the third round on his debut in 2005 when he was just 18. His win against Penniston on Tuesday inspired many of his grass-court studies.
Alcaraz often talks about how he starts every match wanting to play offensively. Murray has shown that aggression can take many forms on grass beyond Alcaraz’s hard-hitting forehand.
He played by blocking a backhand return on his serve, but disappeared at the front of the court and landed a passing shot, sending a drop volley almost straight across. On several rallies, he produced a series of strokes, coming closer and closer to the top of the net and sliding even lower as he landed on the grass. A passing shot from Penniston near the net flew right at his feet as it fell off the table as it passed over the tape. It was one of the easier days on Center Court for Murray, who finished in two hours and one minute, but admitted he was nervous early on.
“I like to feel that way,” he said, “if I’m feeling flat on the court and I’m walking outside and I don’t have any emotions, it’s probably a little You would be wrong.”
When Peniston made his final mistake, Murray celebrated with a slight fist pump and a short wave to the crowd.
He noted that the last time Federer saw him on Center Court was the 2012 Olympic final, when Federer was rooting for compatriot Stan Wawrinka, Murray’s opponent that day.
“It was nice to get some applause today,” Murray said.
Murray skipped the French Open and started preparing for Wimbledon. He believes Wimbledon is his best chance to play in Week 2.
That chance likely turned around Tuesday as the match between his potential opponents Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem was suspended shortly after Thiem won the first set. The game will likely resume on Wednesday, and the winner will almost certainly face Murray on Center Court on Thursday.
Murray said he didn’t study draws and would rather focus on the next game than waste time on hypotheses. That way, the semi-finals will find potential opponents familiar with his tricks.
That would be Alcaraz.