Carlitos' secret weapon - a dropper to die for

The 19-year-old Spaniard has power to burn, but his delicate drop shot is his coup de grâce

Carlos Alcaraz, Roland Garros 2022, second round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Pulsating power off both wings, eye-catching movement that renders the most aggressive opponents helpless, and a booming serve that plasters returners to the back fence; there are so many weapons that Carlos Alcaraz uses to overpower his opponents. 

Just don’t sleep on his drop shot.

The 19-year-old’s heavy weight of shot creates a tactical advantage that the blossoming Spaniard has been happy to exploit as he has made his way up the rankings in 2022.

“He has this chance also that his groundstrokes are super heavy, like I would say one of the heaviest on tour,” No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev told the press in Paris on Tuesday. “So when you're waiting for his groundstroke, you are going to be on the back of your feet so he can use a drop shot much better than some other guys.” 

Sixth-seeded Alcaraz, who will face Sebastian Korda in the third round in Paris, does more than simply use the drop shot – he stone-cold rocks it.

In Miami, according to ATP stats guru Craig O’Shannessy, Alcaraz won 35 of the 50 points when he played a drop shot. That stunning 65 per cent win rate was eclipsed a few weeks later when Alcaraz made a historical run to the Madrid title. 

According to ATP Media, the Spaniard won 59 of the 77 points in which he employed a drop shot in the tournament, an almost unheard of 77 per cent success rate.

Former WTA star and Tennis Channel commentator Pam Shriver points out that Alcaraz is using his tactical awareness to thrive. In an age where ATP players are playing deeper behind the baseline than ever before, the Spanish tour de force is making them pay a price for doing so.

“I think it is a tactical response to what we sometimes see on both sides, but especially in the men's game, which is that the athletes are playing further and further back,” Shriver says. “You see more and more return positions where literally the linesman at the back of the court – if there is no electronic line calling – have to move to get out of the way of the backswing.”

It isn’t simply tactics that make the Alcaraz dropper effective. It’s also execution. Throw the Spaniard’s velvety hands into the mix and we have the perfect recipe for a stunning change of pace. 

“He's got the hands to do it,” says British No.1 Cameron Norrie, who has lost all three matches he has played against Alcaraz, dating back to their first meeting at last year’s US Open. “Then he's got the surprise factor of also absolutely just crushing a forehand winner as well as having the drop shot there, so you have to be ready for both.” 

Power, precision and a feathery touch. And that’s not all. Alcaraz has also made a reputation for being able to disguise his drop shots, especially off the forehand wing. 

“I think for Carlos, his ability to disguise it [is what makes it special],” says Norrie. “He has the same take back, [and makes it appear] that he's going to absolutely blast a forehand. Then suddenly he's coming through pretty quickly and hitting the drop shot, and he keeps it very low.” 

Norrie says that Alcaraz strikes the perfect balance – he has an amazing knack for getting his opponents on the string. 

“You have to be ready the whole time. He's mixing it well and he executes that shot so good,” he said.

Medvedev says he was struck by how much Alcaraz relies on the shot. He also points out his knack for fearlessly using the tactic on the most important points.

“He was doing a lot of drop shots with me in practice,” the world No.2 said, recalling a recent practice session with Alcaraz at Indian Wells. “Some of them I won; some I lost. In my mind I was thinking: ‘Wow, he's really doing a lot’. It's tough to say, but he's doing them good, is it going to be the same in matches?”

Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian trailblazer who is a drop shot artist herself, told about another special element of Alcaraz’s drop shot: he can hit it off of both wings with equal precision. 

“He hides it very well and knows when to use it,” said the Tunisian world No.6. “He also does it from both sides which is rare. I think the main thing is he’s really smart about it, using it not just to break the rhythm but to win a lot of points with it.” 

The more we watch Alcaraz play his brand of tennis, the more we want to see what he’ll do next. Even Medvedev is curious. 

“I wonder if all his career, like, it's going to be like this: just do them, never miss them. Because so far it's really impressive and a big part of his game, and that's why he wins a lot of matches also,” the 26-year-old said. “Just interested to see how it's going to be throughout his career.”