Players like Carlos Alcaraz return the shots to tennis

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PARIS – There are a lot of shots in tennis. And like lace-and-shoe shows, they come in and out of fashion.

But in the top echelons of the sport, the relegation opportunity is having a moment, thanks in part to its skilful deployment by players who have climbed into the top ten in recent months – Tunisia’s Anas Jaber, who has been hailed as a “-shot queen”, and Spain’s Carlos 19-year-old Alcaraz, who is seen as a member of the tennis royal family.

Once 20-times Grand Slam champion Roger Federer has been dismissed as a “panic shot”, the drop shot can be a clever offensive tactic – a way to win a point and, over time, demoralize an opponent who is hopelessly stopped on rotation – a cut ball, flicked In an instant, barely wiping the net, she falls onto the field and dies.

As tennis shots progress, hitting the ball is more of a chess move than a power game.

Expertly executed, as Alcaraz has made several times in his run to the fourth round of the French Open, it’s something of a cruel beauty – the chef’s kiss on the red clay of Roland Garros.

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Its appearance on the Pro Tour goes back in a number of directions.

Due to the speed at which the game’s biggest hitters blast their serve and ground hits, players stand far behind the baseline to counter hits.

In doing so, and essentially conceding a lot of field by retreating almost to the back fence, players are almost calling for a shot.

Moreover, not many players trust the net charge as if they are hitting the ball from the baseline. So a well-executed drop shot can not only take the player by surprise, but also can exploit a shaky vulnerability.

‘It’s not really fun,’ said Bianca Andreescu, the 21-year-old 2019 US Open winner, who asked about seeing more falling shots on the Pro Tour. ‘It’s not really fun.’ …changing the tempo can really annoy your opponent.”

Sixth-seeded Jaber, 27, who led the women’s tour in clay court wins before entering this year’s French Open, uses the shot in a different way than Alcaraz.

Versatility is the hallmark of her game, and she’s always liked to sprinkle plenty of drop shots to delight herself and spoil her opponents, much to the consternation of her early coaches in Tunisia.

“Not only did I have a lot of coaches, there were people saying that what I’m doing is not right and I should stop hitting.” She remembers Jaber on the eve of the French Open, where she was upset in the first round.

She said she complied for a few years. But letting her shot make her unhappy, and didn’t improve her results, so she fell back on the naysayers.

“Listen, it’s my profession. I’m in control of this,” Jaber recalls. “I mean, I’ll listen to the coach, of course. But I had to get this [drop shot]. “

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In the eyes of former professional touring and coach Brad Gilbert, it’s a clever play for the 5-foot-6 Jabeur, who lacks the strength of many of the women she encounters. So you find other ways to conquer opponents.

“She’s a cunning player, not a strong player, and she has a game that relies on cool touch,” said Gilbert, an ESPN commentator.

For Alcaraz, who positively crushes the ball, the drop shot plays a different role.

It’s two of his devastating “punches” – a forehand that exploded from his gunner’s arm, followed by a gently arching ball whose strings could barely bend.

“When it ends up breaking a forehand with such devastating force, it makes you wear your heels back,” Gilbert said. “You think he’s going to keep hitting forehands, then drop a dropper. And he’ll do it with big points, five times in the tiebreak, when you can’t believe it. And you won’t miss it!”

in April, Alcaraz shot 50 shots down, according to the ATP Winning the point 70 percent of the time (35 of 50) is on his way to becoming the youngest winner of the Miami Open. He followed that up with clay court titles in Barcelona and Madrid, where he knocked out 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, top seed Novak Djokovic and third seed Alexander Zverev, respectively.

Although it does not require any strength to speak of, it is not easy to implement the perfect drop shot.

It requires expert technique and timing.

This starts with masking the shot with masking the exact change in handle needed. Most players hit it with a backhand for this reason, because it is easier to conceal the fist. However, the kart tends to hit it with a forehand for a fraction of a second after a forehand.

“His ground kicks are very heavy … one of the fiercest of the tour,” second seed Daniil Medvedev said of Alcaraz. “So when you’re waiting for the ground hit, you’ll be on the back of your feet, so he can use a much better shot than some of the other guys.”

According to Gilbert, it is much better to take a shot from an offensive position than to make a desperate run.

“Men love [Ivan] Lindell and [Jim] “The Courier had a brutal forehand, and then at the last minute they screwed it up, and you’re frozen,” Gilbert said.

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Winning drop hits require a specialized turn, which is accomplished by cutting under the ball or on either side to prevent it from bouncing into the opponent’s attacking area.

It also requires quick thinking – the ability to calculate an opponent’s position on the field in an instant, and lock in speed and efficiency (or lack thereof) on the net – as well as enough creativity and courage to visualize the shot.

Gilbert said Hall of Fame member Chris Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam titles in the ’70s and ’80s, had a great shot because she practiced it with interest, while few others did.

Federer mastered it too after overcoming his resistance and deciding it was worth adding to his repertoire.

Two main things make Federer’s shot effective, according to his former coach Paul Anacon, a Tennis Channel analyst who also coached Federer’s star, Hall of Famer Pete Sampras.

“He’s a professional at taking time away by taking the ball early,” Anacon explained about Federer. “This keeps you on the lookout, giving you less time to respond, and opens the door to using your drop shot due to your time being stolen.”

On top of that, Federer usually stands on or inside the baseline, Anacon pointed out, which is the ideal court position for dropping a shot.

Anacon wrote, “Combine that with its ability to soften hands and quench contact, and you have great ingredients to implement that clever touch.”

But all too often, the drop shot becomes predictable, making even the most skilled of practitioners look a fool when a tactically wise opponent rushes forward in time for a winning response or, in a playful fashion, drops whoever drops the ball. .