Perspective | Carlos Alcaraz’s attitude is as fascinating as his tennis

NEW YORK – You don’t want to take away all the hustle and bustle from Carlos Alcaraz, any more than you want to take a whiff of a feather duster. Demand strict warfare from his hands and feet, rule his punches by percentage, limit his sheer goofiness, and you might as well unhitch his racquet. You ruin the instrument altogether.

Take in mind a wonderfully imperfect 20-year-old while competing at the US Open, craving a racquet so badly and fascinated by the possibilities of the game so much it almost seems like he would he kiss the tennis ball. Be aware that the tedious duties of defending Grand Slams and managing commercial brands are not yet at the expense of improvisation. Enjoy the rampant inundation of a young champion who, at moments when he should be grabbing a match, instead becomes dreamy, playing games with such a superior, tactile touch that he doesn’t mind dropping a set because it’s a constant internal dialogue for him: is it better to finish the point quickly or go to the circus?

“Of course I want to win every game I play, but at the same time I want to have fun, try different things, make people happy to watch tennis and see my games,” Alcaraz said on Saturday after needing four sets to losing Daniel Evans reaches the fourth round. “Sometimes I talk to myself about what matters most: whether I’m winning or doing great things.”

Drop shots float gently over the net like drifting leaves. Sometimes he rolls the ball, sometimes he slices it — and sometimes he opens his shoulders for a forehand that burns like a cherry bomb. In a corner-to-corner sprint against Evans, he recaptured a seemingly unreachable ball to hit a forehand pass that stunned Evans to drop his racquet and take a 4-2 lead in the final set. However, what intrigues most is its ability to instantly switch from one mode to another, from blast to flutter. The varieties are so inviting that he sometimes has a hard time deciding, he admits.

“If anything, he’s probably playing too many shots,” Evans later said. “He got me out of jail with the wrong shot a couple of times.”

But that’s actually one of the genuine joys of watching Alcaraz at this stage – experimenting at his steep learning curve is exciting. When he started working with his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero at the age of 15, he was “like a spaghetti”. Ferrero said. Last year he was obviously still an adolescent when he won his first Grand Slam title at 19, still getting stronger and growing a beard seemingly overnight. Ferrero estimated that Alcaraz had only found 60 per cent of his potential and some immaturity was still showing as he cramped under the pressure to meet Novak Djokovic in the French Open semifinals this spring. But at Wimbledon, he declared: “I’m a very different player than the French Open.” I’ve grown up a lot since then.” It hadn’t even been two months.

Now he’s got bulges all over his body, shoulders and quads like boulders, and he’s the new top player in the world by acclamation. But there’s potential with that too… heaviness. Djokovic’s comment on this tournament that his new rival combines the qualities of himself, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was meant as a compliment. But he might as well have hung weights on the kid. Alcaraz recognized from his young self that his temperament does not always respond well to the burden of great expectations.

He suffered a brief slump during last year’s promotion season when he was too busy racking up ranking points. The debilitating cramps that bound him in the French semi-final definitely taught him that “I can’t play with that tension,” he admitted. To perform well, his emotional regulator needs to be set in a playful way.

“I keep winning because I smile” he said. “And I’ve always said that smiling is the key to everything for me, you know.”

In this respect, Alcaraz cannot actually be compared to the so-called Big Three. Federer was a perfectionist cloaked in grace, Nadal was of incredible intensity and Djokovic is a relentless enforcer. The main quality of Alcaraz is an almost indescribable creativity. “I always say I’m full, Carlos Alcaraz,” he said this summer. “I’m just trying to go my own way and create Carlos Alcaraz.” He has less of a style and more of a sensibility. Ferrero noticed After last year’s US Open win, when asked to rate his student, he said: “It’s very hard to put all these things into words.”

It’s a sensitivity that requires free flow. Ferrero has said he found it difficult to stop Alcaraz from using the drop shot too often just because he’s so careless with it. In a match when he was 16, Ferrero finally banned him from using it at all. When Ferraro leaked the story to Spanish radio show El Larguero, he told Alcaraz: “Stop. Not one today.” Two points later, another small hummingbird ball flew over the net. Alcaraz looked at his coach, laughed and apologized at the same time.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it,” he said.

Probably the most accurate observation about Alcaraz came from Ferrero in exchange with Sports Illustrated Last month. Alcaraz “has the ability to destroy the point,” noted Ferrero. But “he also likes to do it.” make Points.”

At some point, Alcaraz will have to stop messing around so much. When his first-round opponent Dominik Koepfer was forced to resign, it was actually Alcaraz disappointed. “I want to play battles,” he said. But the demands of the Grand Slam race inevitably require that his next cycle of development involve efficiency, shortening games, avoiding battles, and conserving his physical and mental energy. He will have to learn ruthlessness. The question arises as to how much of his love for the circus he has to give up for this. The choices are likely to be far more complicated.

“Probably,” he admits with a smile. “But I try not to think about it.”

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