Jabeur, Alcaraz drop shots: What makes them unique?

Top talents dissect two of tennis’ greatest droppers

Ons Jabeur, Roland-Garros 2023, first round© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Killing them softly, over and over again. 

The drop shots of Ons Jabeur and Carlos Alcaraz are the stuff of legend in tennis circles. Feathery missives, born to befuddle, they can disrupt game plans, break up rhythm and throw a wrench in the best-laid plans of a tried-and-true baseliner. 

They can make defenders look dishevelled. They can frustrate the unflappable. 

Over the last few years, the Tunisian and the Spaniard have helped drive a drop shot renaissance in tennis, but they’ve pursued their art in very different manners. 

“Jabeur is more of a magician,” two-time Roland-Garros champion and Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier says. “She needs more sleight-of-hand in a way to work her wizardry because she's not able to back the players off of the court with as much as the firepower coming off of her groundstrokes.”

Courier says that when it comes to soft hands, it’s hard to hang with the Tunisian’s otherworldly talent.. 

“I would give her the edge as far as feel,” he says. “Her drop shots have to be more accurate, more precise to do the damage.” 

Alcaraz, on the other hand, uses brutal power from the baseline to force his opponents back. Then the Spaniard hits the button and introduces one of tennis’ greatest change-ups. 

“I feel like Alcaraz is a little bit more aggressive and he does a little bit more serve-and-volley and moving forward, whereas I feel like Ons, I think she can drop-shot from anywhere on the court,” Coco Gauff, 2022 Roland-Garros runner-up says. 

Courier agrees with that assessment. 

“I think that one advantage that Carlos has is that he has just a little more of a speed difference between his top speed shots on the forehand, the backhand, and then the obvious gap to the drop shot, and that gives him probably a little bit more space to work with,” the American adds. 

Seventh-seeded Jabeur may have the edge in feel, but Alcaraz gets top marks when it comes to concealment. 

“He has very a good disguise,” Courier says. “It's a late grip change on both of his shots, so that helps him. He is also by sheer nature of the force available creating more space in the forecourt.”

Carlos Alcaraz, Rome 2023, third round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Gauff has never experienced Alcaraz’s drop shot live, but she’s a student of the game and has a good read on what makes it special. 

“I never can read it,” she said. “Obviously I'm not on the court with him playing, so I don't know if I would be able to read it better if I was actually playing, but from the TV, yeah, I don't see it coming.”

Jabeur, an astute tactician and student of the game, has done a lot of scouting of Alcaraz as well. Element of surprise is the Spaniard’s signature, she says. 

“I think he is very athletic as a player and he’s moving around and he hides it so well that you don’t know which shot he’s going to do,” she told rolandgarros.com.

For the record, Bianca Andreescu, a very talented drop shot artist in her own right, believes nobody - not even Alcaraz - compares to Jabeur.

"Honestly, I think Ons has the best drop shot, like out of male and female players," says Andreescu, who practised with Jabeur on the eve of Roland-Garros. "Ons is number one. She's very talented, and she's using her talent in a very good way."

A tip for players of all ages: develop a diverse arsenal and know when to employ the drop shot. The key is to keep your opponent off balance, says Jabeur. The Tunisian points out that this is why Alcaraz has so much success with his drop shot. 

“The fact that he’s powerful and very athletic in his shots, the way he does it, you don’t know if you should go in or go back, because he hits very fast and the variety of his game puts the opponent on the edge,” she says. “And that’s the good thing about doing drop shots.

“I truly believe that you can have an amazing drop shot, but if you don’t know when to use it or how to use it at a good time, then everybody would know that you’re going to hit a drop shot and it’s not going to be as effective as it should be.”

Ons Jabeur / Rome 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT