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The Carlos Alcaraz shot tipped to break down the ‘big three’


Alcaraz is “arguably moving the game forward a notch”, McNamee said, acutely aware that Nadal may not be completely fit in Paris, hampered by a chronic foot injury which also clouded his Australian Open lead-up, despite going on to win it.

“It’s not Rafa in his prime, but it’s a little bit [like] what Lendl did to Borg. The game evolved when Borg and [Guillermo] Vilas brought in heavy top spin and then Lendl had similar top spin but actually had more power,” McNamee said.

“I don’t actually think his [Alcatraz’s] forehand is as good as Nadal’s. I do not. However, his backhand is so much better.”

Australian tennis great Paul McNamee

“I’m not saying historically that he [Lendl] is a better player than all of those, but he actually moved the game forward because he added power to the top-spin.

“His forehand was quite lethal. It was a bigger shot than Borg had, even though Borg had a great forehand, Lendl’s was evolved a little bit. He added more power.”

A young Ivan Lendl.

A young Ivan Lendl.Credit:Archives

What does Alcaraz’s game look like?

Alcaraz enjoyed his first career win over Nadal earlier this month in Madrid before following it with victory over Djokovic and destroying Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the final. Suddenly, everyone sat up and took notice.

Nadal’s piercing, top-spin-laden forehand is legendary, taking him to a record number of grand slam titles (21) and brutal dominance on clay (13 Roland Garros titles and counting).

“I don’t actually think his [Alcatraz’s] forehand is as good as Nadal’s. I do not. However, his backhand is so much better,” says McNamee.

“His backhand was so fast, so heavy, whereas Rafa’s backhand is a traditional top-spin backhand with shape. Alcaraz just rips his backhand flat, and he just hits cold winners across court, just cold winners. A bit like Djokovic, OK, but he’s also got a very good forehand.”

Thus McNamee can safely anticipate Alcaraz’s impact.

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“What Alcaraz seems to be doing is saying ‘well, you might have the best shot, but mine’s almost as good and, in fact, my backhand … the other one is way better.’

“So I’m going to overwhelm you with the combination of the two, which no one had been able to do [in men’s tennis] pre-Alcaraz.

“That’s why I’m seeing the slight evolution of the game again, which comes along every generation.”

Arguably, Alcaraz represents a new form of Djokovic, McNamee says.

“Djokovic is similar in a way because he’s got the great backhand – much better than Nadal’s – and that’s why he [Djokovic] has done so well against him, especially on hardcourt.

“To be honest he [Alcaraz] plays more like Djokovic than he does like Nadal.”

Inevitable comparisons

Nadal’s and Alcaraz’s birthdays are only weeks apart and Nadal’s memorable opening major at Roland Garros in 2005 happened shortly after he turned 19. Therefore, comparisons between the two are certain.

Nadal has expressed some frustration when quizzed consistently about Alcaraz’s career trajectory.

“If he’s able to win 25 grand slams, it’s going to be amazing for him and for our country, and I’ll be happy for him,” said the tennis legend.

“But let him enjoy his personal career,” Nadal warned. “Don’t put extra pressure on him.”

Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal.Credit:AP

McNamee believes that, ironically, Alcaraz’s nationality will assist him. Given Nadal’s status and feats, the teen won’t be pressured in the same way as players seeking to end a drought for their nation.

“He [Alcaraz] has got the ‘cover’ of Nadal in the sense that ‘well, you’re great, but you’re still not Nadal yet’,” said McNamee.

“I think that, therefore, he has a little bit of clear air [because of the Nadal shadow]. I know he’s not getting any right now, but in time he’ll get some clean air because you can’t honestly compare another Spaniard to Nadal… yet.”

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