It is a shot that has been acclaimed as the most powerful weapon in tennis, yet Carlos Alcaraz’s forehand may also be his biggest weakness.
Kicking off a new Tennis365 series looking at the inside tactics of the game, here is an observation of an area Alcaraz needs to improve as he continues his journey towards greatness.
THE BIGGEST WEAPON
When Carlos Alcaraz unleashes his forehand at maximum velocity, there is no greater sight or sound in tennis.
The noise of his racket and the roar the 20-year-old Spaniard lets out when fires a winner on his favorite weapon is one of the few shots in tennis that draws gasps of awe from spectators.
Roger Federer used to have this effect on an audience as he weaved his magic during his iconic career, yet it was the beauty and brilliance that gave the Swiss maestro that elusive sparkle.
Alcaraz’s forehand is all about raw power, brutal precision and an end game that can be impossible to stop.
On that basis, most opponents would prefer to avoid that shot coming at them at all costs.
BUILDING AN AURA
All of the above may well encourage an opponent to trade blows with Alcaraz on his backhand wing, but the players who have beaten him over the last few weeks have had success on his forehand side.
After his win in the Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic and his epic final against the same rival in the Cincinnati Masters showpiece match, it seemed as if the US Open would be decided between the world No 1 and No 2.
In a short space of time, Alcaraz appeared to have separated himself from the pack chasing Djokovic, and his comprehensive win against Medvedev in the Wimbledon semi-finals in July appeared to confirm that.
All that changed when Medvedev shocked Alcaraz in the US Open semi-finals and since then, we have seen signs of weakness in the young Spaniard’s game.
Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic at the 2023 French Open
Novak Djokovic’s win against Carlos Alcaraz in the French Open semi-final was aided by the young Spaniard’s cramping, but it was also the day that revealed the Serb’s game plan against his new big rival.
His decision to feed Alcaraz’s forehand consistently during the first two sets saw him lose points that were taken out of his control, but it also tested the resolve of a player who later admitted the pressure of the moment was too much for him after his defeat.
Alcaraz’s forehand was firing impressively during the Wimbledon final and that helped him to get over the winning line to seal the finest win of his career, but Djokovic persisted with his plan to attack the forehand at key moments as he found a way to win the epic final against the Spaniard in Cincinnati in August.
THE TACTICAL MINDSET
In his loss against Medvedev in New York, against Jannik Sinner at the China Open and against Grigor Dimitrov at the Shanghai Masters, Alcaraz’s stress levels reached boiling point.
He looked forlorn at times as his forehand was repelled by Medvedev’s tactic of standing deep behind the baseline and forcing him to play an extra shot.
Then in Beijing, Alcaraz displayed real signs of frustration early in his match against Sinner, which he lost in straight sets.
Similarly against Dimitrov, the aura he had built up in the opening half of 2023 was shaken as his forehand lacked the punch it had at Wimbledon and in tournaments prior to that.
The smiling Alcaraz who brought a violent joy onto the court with him had been replaced by a player burdened by the status he now has in the game and his rivals sensed that weakness.
THE FOREHAND FLAW
Alcaraz’s forehand is his match-winner and, occasionally, his weakness.
When it is firing, there is no better shot in tennis and it has helped to give the 20-year-old his X Factor at the top of the game.
Yet Medvedev, Sinner and Dimitrov beat Alcaraz in recent weeks after his forehand started to break down and we saw Djokovic deploy similar tactics against his rival in his French Open semi-final win last June.
This is a dangerous tactic as Alcaraz has the power and precision to blow any opponent away when his forehand is flowing, but the shot could also be his most crippling if it starts to break down.
The sense of panic in a tennis player when his best shot deserts him is hard to control and we have seen big Alcaraz struggle to control his forehand when it is attacked with a big-hitting approach.
“The execution of what we tried to do went very, very well. I won’t say what we talked about, but it was all about being aggressive,” said Sinner after his win against Alcaraz in Beijing.
“When he has a lot of time, he is very difficult to play against, so we both get to know each other a bit better now. That can make it easier and also difficult in other ways.”
Carlos Alcaraz beaten by Jannik Sinner in China
Carlos Alcaraz is the second-best tennis player in the world and, at the age of 20, his achievements in the game single him out as one of the finest young players we have ever seen.
Yet after bossing his opponents with his high-energy game over the last couple of years, game plans are now being devised that could unsettle him as he looks to establish himself at the top of the game.
His last three defeats have exposed a mental frailty that came to the surface when pressure was applied and that was especially evident when his forehand began to misfire.
Only a handful of players will have the ability and confidence to go after the Alcaraz forehand, but if you can get him off balance and take time away from him to hit his favorite shot, it may be a route to victory against this magical player.