He took 3 months away from tennis and grabbed a tour win in his first tournament back. We know that Carlos Alcaraz is truly exceptional. The former World #1 dropped only one set en route to victory at the Argentina Open, his 7th tour title.
After battling hamstring and ab injuries that kept him out of the Australian Open, Alcaraz made the interesting choice to return on clay, a body-brutal surface. He is playing clay ahead of the two hard courts of the Sunshine Slam. After which he will return to the long and grueling spring of clay on the road to Roland Garros.
This switching between clay and hard court raises the question: What will end up being Carlos Alcaraz’s best surface?
Let’s eliminate grass for the moment because his best result at Wimbledon is only the 4th round, and for his young career, he’s only 4-2 on grass at the ATP level. It’s not enough of a body of work.
So that leaves clay versus hard court. Of his seven titles, 5 have come on clay. But one of his two titles on hard court is the U.S. Open– that’s a statement. His performance on the two surfaces is similar: Alcaraz is 43-11 on clay and 47-18 on hard. Bottom line: It’s early. He’s a teenager for a few more months. His brain and his game are still malleable. We have no clue what this kid is capable of. But let’s have some fun and examine where his trajectory might be headed in terms of surface.
If Carlos Alcaraz has a signature shot at the tender age of 19, it’s the drop shot. It’s thrilling, it’s beguiling and it’s used to win tournaments.
According to stats from the ATP Tour, Alcaraz has a stunning point-win-rate of 68% when using the forehand drop shot. That means he not only executes the shot, but he knows when to employ it and what to do after he has. On the backhand side, his win percentage is 52%– still great. According to the ATP, these percentages go up on clay. Of course they do– it’s a better shot to use on that surface. That said, if the dropper is the Alcaraz signature, this is an argument in favor of clay being his best surface at the moment.
Return of Serve
Some players are great servers; some players are great returners; and like the Big 3, some players are both. Carlos Alcaraz is headed toward “both,” but right now, his return skills have the edge. His ATP serve rating on all surfaces for the past year is ranked 21. His return rating is 3.
Alcaraz has an Innate ability to adjust his stroke and return position to the surface. You will see him stand way back on clay, even on second serve, and take a monster whack on returns, a la Rafael Nadal. And you will also see him stand closer to the baseline against hard-court first serves and use his defensive skills to achieve uncanny depth a la Novak Djokovic. He adjusts.
Right now, his return rating on clay is 12. His return rating on hard court is a stunning #2– second only to Daniil Medvedev. Advantage: Hard court.
Since showing up at the 2022 Australian Open with guns for days, Alcaraz has been breaking ground with his exceptional fitness levels. Alcaraz is known to have a grueling training regimen that involves a combination of strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and agility drills. This level of fitness is even more important on clay than it is on hard court because of the show bounce and slightly longer average rally length than on hard court.
His edge over some of his peers in fitness and conditioning make him a major threat on clay.
In the final analysis, I see Alcaraz as a slightly better clay court player at the moment. We could also simply ask him, and he says his favorite surface is clay. So there you go.