Here is the latest sports news from The Indian Express as of 6:00 p.m. on April 16
You are listening to the Expresso Sports update. Here is an exclusive report on Carlos Alcaraz presented by The Indian Express.
“Last Sunday, the tennis world lined the red carpet sprinkling rose petals to welcome its next great champion – Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, an 18-year-old from the quaint Spanish village of El Palmar, better known for its palm trees as for tennis.
Paul Annacone, who once coached greats like Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, and currently coaches Taylor Fritz, said: ‘I think he’s got greatness all over him’, ‘His game is electric, it’s kinda like lightning in a bottle. He’s got this fast racquet, like Andre Agassi, and he’s got fast feet like Rafa. He can play on the baseline and he can step back when he needs to. So he has a lot of things so naturally already at 18 and he’s already 30 in the world so I just can’t imagine how good he’ll be two years from now if he stays healthy.
There was a general consensus on his class, but a hilarious but interesting global divide on his style of play.
Less than five minutes after winning the Miami Masters 1000 – once aptly called the 5th Grand Slam, becoming the youngest male player to win this tournament in tennis history, everyone from pundits to meme-makers , felt compelled to respond to the obvious ‘He’s next who?’ question.
Long before winning in Miami, Alcaraz would cringe at the thought of being hailed as the ‘right-handed Nadal’. His quickness on the court, eagerness to dominate on points and muscularity being the basis of comparison and Spain’s leap of faith.
Her coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former French Open champion who didn’t survive the Big 3 on the march to tennis dominance in the mid-2000s, wasn’t thrilled either. He tried to ease the burden of expectations placed on the young shoulders by the home supporters. Ferrero said Alcaraz’s style is more like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. He didn’t make it easy for the boy whose every step on the court was suddenly under scrutiny.
The coach’s comments prompted the internet to dig up old match videos, cut them up and then pasted them side by side.
So there’s this clip where Alcaraz and Djokovic, in two different settings dominating hard-court rallies, are seen moving across the baseline, swinging their racquets with choreographed synchronicity.
Until the celebration of the ‘pursed lips and arrogant nods’ after the sharp-angled cross forehand winner, the young Spainard looked like the Serbian legend’s identical tennis twins.
Rafa’s quick feet, Djokovic’s forehand and, as some have observed, Andre Agassi’s racquet speed – Alcaraz was designed to look like a Frankenstein programmed to hit monstrous forehands.
Some independent Youtube research on forehands reveals Sergi Bruguera, the clay-court master of the 90s. His whip-like forehand is said to be the result of the racquet taking the path of a plane taking off while hitting the ball. Alcaraz’s shot form and racket path are also similar.
Perhaps, wary of the greatness thrust upon him, Alcaraz insisted he wanted to be just Carlos Alcaraz. The anecdotes on a photo of him with Federer at his bedside add even more interest to the story.
But this did not harm the Spaniards. Nadal once at a press conference looked distracted. He couldn’t take his eyes off the television in the media room showing an Alcaraz match.
When told by a reporter that his compatriot was trailing, Nadal smiled and said there were still a lot of games to play. It wasn’t long before Alcaraz vindicated Nadal’s faith and finished the game.
The latest tennis star to emerge from Spain is something of an outlier, but he also represents the legacy of this great tennis nation.
What separates him from Nadal is his press on the pitch. Since his days on the junior circuit, Alcaraz has finished most rallies from inside the baseline. You’ve never been dismissed as another Spanish backyard slugger. He’s a beaver always ready to catch the ball early and throw the kitchen sink at it.
Alcaraz’s overall game is also a tribute to a system that values wisdom passed down from generation to generation and encourages organically evolving original thinking.
An important weapon that Alcaraz has is the soft shot which slides down his side of the court and has just enough force to cross the net and sink. He also has a lob that sails his 6+ opponents and kisses the baseline.
These two unconventional shots hard to land at critical moments break the rhythm of his opponents and help him win those points at 40-30.
Alcaraz is a perfect brand ambassador for the many clay-court academies that dot Spain. For years, these were assembly lines where kids checked in after school in the afternoon and left late at night.
In a delightful podcast by Dan Kiernan, Control the Controllables, two experienced coaches from Spain, Bruno Argudo and Juan Beaus, paint a stark picture of these tennis schools while talking about a very different culture to academies around the world where kids pay for “hourly sessions”.
Between the end of their homework, children have enough time for endless sets. They travel for group tournaments. When they’re not playing, they sit next to their coaches, who between sips of coffee talk about strategies for different game situations.
Clay courts also have a role. On the podcast, these slow surfaces were described as “assistant coaches.” They teach you patience, hone your courtship skills, and never allow you to be complacent. There are no easy points since the ball does not fly out of bounds. It is a difficult task. In a month, the latest Spanish sensation will be in Paris and his pedigree makes him one of the favourites.
Alcaraz may be different, but it’s his grooming that makes him loyal to the Vamos-howling tribe who have pitched their tents on many clay courts around the world.
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