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Alcaraz Wins Madrid: Rational or Irrational?
Is tennis genius rational or irrational? As only he can, 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz said yes to both possible answers today.
Published May 08, 2022
Is tennis genius rational or irrational? As only he can, 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz said yes to both possible answers today when he took just 62 minutes to earn a 6-3, 6-1 win over Alexander Zverev in the finals of the Mutua Madrid Open. This was Alcaraz’s second Tennis Masters 1000 championship of 2022 and tour-leading fourth title overall.
But even in the wake of all this success, Alcaraz remained focused on his development. “I want to keep on progressing,” he said. “I have really good shots. I don't say that I don't have them, but I know that I can improve them and they can be even better.”
The rational view wondered how Alcaraz would fare after he’d taken a combined total of six hours to beat Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on Friday and Saturday. Recall that Alcaraz had rolled his ankle versus Nadal, an injury that today continued to plague him. Added to the mix was an infected foot blister.
Then there was the matter of Zverev. Ranked third in the world and Madrid’s defending champion (as well as the winner in 2018), Zverev had played crisp attacking tennis to beat fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas in yesterday’s semi. No doubt, Zverev had been aided by the new coach he’d added to his team in mid-March, two-time Roland Garros champion Sergi Bruguera.
But enough logic. Isn’t precocity inherently irrational? Per the Carly Simon song, “You’re So Vain,” Alcaraz competed versus Zverev like he was walking onto a yacht; not just with exquisite flair, but with the comfort of a man tremendously at ease in his environment. Madrid’s fabled main court, dubbed “The Magic Box,” was more like “Carlos’ Playhouse.” Three days after he’d begun his last year as a teenager, Alcaraz made Zverev, still just 25, look considerably older and far less dynamic in every possible corner of the court.
“I also emphasize that on the court I'm a very competitive guy,” said Alcaraz. “I don't like to lose. I always try to look for some trick or something to be able to win and I think that's something that characterizes me, one of my key aspects that I try to win.”
Zverev cited a reason for his sluggish tennis. Though Zverev had nothing but praise for Alcaraz’s tennis, he was also miffed at how tournament organizers scheduled matches to be played so late that following his two most recent matches, Zverev went to sleep near dawn, early Saturday soon after 4:00 a.m., Sunday at 5:20 a.m.
“Today on court, I'm a little bit -- now I'm a little bit angry, I would say, because I had no coordination today,” said Zverev. “I had no coordination on my serve, I had no coordination on my groundstrokes. I missed two overheads that were super easy because I see the ball, and everything is moving in my eyes. I don't want to take anything away, and today obviously, even if I'm fresh, probably I would not beat Carlos, but definitely would be a better match.”
Two revealing moments came in each set. In the first set, Alcaraz served at 2-all and then proceeded to win 12 of the next 13 points. Included in this sizzling stretch were a trademark drop shot, the rally capped off by an alert inside-out forehand pass winner; a 100 mph winner, and a pass, dipped down the middle appropriately low enough to elicit a Zverev volley error. The entire sequence so discouraged Zverev that Alcaraz was able to swiftly serve out the set at love.
Set two saw Alcaraz grab an early break. Then, disaster for Zverev. Serving at 1-3, 40-15, Zverev misfired a smash in a way akin to a club player, served his third double-fault of the set, netted a forehand volley and at break point was the mouse to Alcaraz’s cat in the form of a lethal drop shot-lob sequence. Two games later, Zverev rallied from 1-5, love-40 back to deuce, only to see it all end in the worst possible way – two straight double-faults.
Swing back now to the rational. Alcaraz’s coach, former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero, has clearly helped him create as broad a line of attack as currently exists in contemporary tennis. This incredible range of power, touch, movement and court positioning is the result of hour after hour of hard work. From Rod Laver to Martina Navratilova to Roger Federer, such has been the case for many of the game’s most eclectic stylists. Laver once told me that every creative shot he’d ever hit in a match was one he’d practiced thousands of times. As one saying goes, instinct is trained knowledge. Said Alcaraz, “Right now I'm trying to just assimilate everything that I am going through.”
So is the tennis world with Alcaraz. As 2022 has unfolded, also per “You’re So Vain,” Alcaraz is where he should be all the time. Logical as all of his all-court prowess appears in full flight, it’s still rare beyond belief to see tennis played so creatively and effectively from someone this young.