The Carlos Alcaraz habit that can help deliver another Wimbledon crown

Carlos Alcaraz turned to his box, clenching his fist in delight with that familiar intensity. This remains relatively new ground for the Wimbledon champion, who is still just 21, but after improving his record on grass to 19-3, this straight-sets victory (7-6, 6-2, 6-3) over Aleksandar Vukic appeared ordinary. Yet a closer inspection revealed a crucial habit that could enable the Spaniard to defend his title and move to four career grand slams.

A defiant Novak Djokovic, gritting his teeth through the lingering effects of surgery, and the world No 1, Jannik Sinner, pose obvious threats to this promising title defence. And his blossoming rivalry with the Italian appears well-balanced on the surface, with the head-to-head currently standing at 5-4 in the Spaniard’s favour. Wimbledon, too, appears to be sitting on the fence after flipping both contenders on that side of the draw from Centre to No 1 Court between their first and second-round matches.

But Alcaraz is on a mission and a fourth slam – to make him just the sixth man to win both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year after Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic – would ensure separation between himself and Sinner’s one slam to date in the compelling battle to seize Djokovic’s men’s throne, when the Serb eventually calls time on his career.

Vukic, in his first meeting with his illustrious opponent, would prove stubborn, though. The world No 69 rattled off four successive games to move from 5-2 down to the brink of a one-set lead at 6-5. But here was the moment for Alcaraz to snap out of a brief slump. Having dozed off momentarily, he illustrated just what separates the very good and great players.

Vukic had been serving well and plotting his way through the set, yet Alcaraz flicked the switch to snap a run of four games conceded: an outstretched forehand winner, whipped across court, then a race to the net to glance a backhand winner past the despairing Australian, before, finally, a backhand volley at the net provided three winners in four points. Vukic would crumble and the set was settled in a tie-break. Alcaraz continued to impress in this pressurised situation, hitting three successive winners to further demonstrate an appetite for swinging momentum at crucial points of the match.

“Well, for me it is everything,” Alcaraz said when asked about the importance of stepping up in pressurised moments. “If you can stay positive, you can stay calm in the toughest situations that probably the match can reach you, you’re going to win. That’s it.

“It’s a battle against the opponent. If you can stay calmer than the other, than the opponent, you are going to be better.

“So in those situations, I try to be positive, to be calm, to think about I can keep my best shots in this moment. Obviously, that help a lot when you’re feeling great off the court.

“At least for me, when I’m feeling great, feeling calm off the court the previous days or the hours before the match, I’m going to perform better, I’m going to feel better on the court. So that’s it.”

Alcaraz hits a backhand against Vukic in the second round (Getty Images)
Alcaraz hits a backhand against Vukic in the second round (Getty Images)

A ruthless Alcaraz never looked back from the first set tie-break, really. The second set lasted 28 minutes and the third just two minutes more.

And while there is an intimidating presence across the net when facing Alcaraz, given the way he can bludgeon the ball back at you on serve while touching 130mph, his finesse and variety provide as much of the intrigue surrounding his game.

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz reacts as he plays against Australia's Aleksander Vukic (AFP via Getty Images)
Spain's Carlos Alcaraz reacts as he plays against Australia's Aleksander Vukic (AFP via Getty Images)

Just ask Real Madrid and France forward Kylian Mbappe, who rates Alcaraz his favourite player on the Top Spin game when recharging between Euro 2024 matches.

Even when Vukic was able to crush the ball over the net and into the pocket of space below Alcaraz’s knees in the third set, he found a way to dig the ball out. This time the ball fell agonisingly over the net to extinguish any hope of an Australian comeback.

An ace then clinched it, one of 11 throughout this contest, with the deadly combination of 41 winners sprinkled across the three sets.

Carlos Alcaraz on his way to victory (PA Wire)
Carlos Alcaraz on his way to victory (PA Wire)

Frances Tiafoe awaits in round three, with fond memories from the pair’s epic five-set contest at the US Open in 2022 flooding back before Alcaraz claimed that maiden slam at Flushing Meadows. But the 21-year-old has since acquired impeccable timing, as demonstrated towards the end of this crucial first set.

A canny ability to produce flurries of winners at the right time might prove a recurring theme. He’ll need more of that in the coming days, of course, but the evidence so far suggests it’s all going to plan.