No surface tension: Alcaraz’s all-court game has a special touch | Tennis News

Carlos Alcaraz has some pressing issues to address. Sure, the childhood dream of winning the French Open may have been lived, record books that stood still for years shuffled courtesy him. Now, he must find time for a tattoo.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz kisses the trophy after winning the French Open.

The Spaniard has carved a dated tattoo of his 2022 US Open triumph on his right arm and of his 2023 Wimbledon on the right ankle. Alcaraz knows where the latest would go but not when.

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“I will do it for sure. It’s going to be on the left ankle,” he smiled.

Tattoo talks moments after his most cherished triumph put in context Alcaraz’s accomplishment as well as age. His first title at Roland Garros on Sunday made him the youngest player to capture a Grand Slam across the three surfaces of elite tennis.

At 21, he sits on top of a select list of seven men to do so featuring Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and Mats Wilander. Only Nadal (22) and Wilander (23) claimed a major on a third surface before turning 26.

Even before the world could place his name alongside these giants of the sport, Alcaraz brought up Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. If he had to be among the world’s best players, he said before beating Alexander Zverev in the final, he had to deliver success on every surface.

Federer took 11 cracks at winning his first clay-court Slam to complete the surface set at the 2009 French Open; Djokovic did so in his 12th attempt at the 2016 French Open; Nadal grabbed his first hard-court major at the 2009 Australian Open five years after his first appearance in Melbourne. Four years into making his Slam debut, Alcaraz has the entire spread to feast on (and get inked).

That he proclaimed the three-surface history as a prerequisite to “if I want to be one of the best players in the world” speaks as much of his elite mentality as of his blooming all-court game style. Almost every top player in the men’s circuit has the power game but Alcaraz brings a certain panache, the deft touches to go with the brutal baseline assaults. Sample these stats from the final: Alcaraz won 63% (25/40) points at the net to Zverev’s 57% (30/53). Alcaraz hit 20 drop shots to Zverev’s 10 and while it didn’t always work, the variety of play kept the German guessing.

Affinity to the net, drops and volleys are all-season, all-surface strokes that blend in on faster grass and hard courts. They may not inflict as much damage on the slower clay courts but the vigour of variety and intent to kill does play in the opponent’s mind. Like Zverev said about the “beast” Alcaraz, “he can do so many different things”.

“I grew up playing on clay court, but the most tournaments in the tour is on hard court. So, I had to practice more on hard court, and I started to feel more comfortable on hard courts,” Alcaraz said of his surface adaptability after winning the final. “I feel my game suits very well on every surface because I practice it. Drop shots, my volley, I wanted to develop my style of being aggressive all the time. Practising the defence and all that stuff, but my main goal is being aggressive as much as I can. So, I think on grass it suits pretty well… but in all surfaces, I think it’s a pretty good thing.”

Also a good thing? Learning to win even when things aren’t looking bright. That’s what champions of the Big Three ilk were known to do. That’s what Alcaraz did in Paris the past fortnight, and why he is “most proud” about this Slam victory.

The forearm injury that made him skip the Italian Open last month meant the body wasn’t sure how it would respond, and the title drought between the 2023 Wimbledon in July and 2024 Indian Wells in March meant the mind was also clouded in uncertainty.

Yet despite not bringing his A game throughout the tournament, Alcaraz found a way to make it work, crank it up when it mattered and go all the way. That’s champion mentality, the kind that hasn’t made him lose a Slam final yet and win 11 of his 12 Slam five-set matches including the Paris final.

“I wanted to be one of the best tennis players in the world, so I have to give extra in those moments in the fifth set,” he said.

Just 21 with an all-court game that still has plenty of room to develop — the serve, the forehand accuracy, for instance — Alcaraz is well on his way to becoming “one of the best”. Is he thinking about chasing the best, the 24-Slam Serb?

“I don’t know. I hope so,” Alcaraz said of the “unbelievable” Djokovic. 

“I just want to keep going, and let’s see how many Grand Slams I’m going to take at the end of my career. Hopefully reach the 24, but right now I’m going to enjoy my third one.”

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