February 23, 2024

Maxsports

All Sports To The Max

MATCH POINT: Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz was back winning on clay just days after glory at SW19

Re-entering the outside world after three weeks hunkered down at Wimbledon, one thing has been clear: everyone seems to love Carlos Alcaraz.

It has been barely possible to move without friends and acquaintances, even tennis agnostics, remarking about how much they were enthralled by the men’s Wimbledon final and its winner.

The huge impact (speaking of the UK) is partly testament to the power of being on a free-to-air broadcaster which can pull in the casual audience, and the related element of Wimbledon’s cachet. 

It was also interesting to note that the brilliant final had lodged in some people’s minds that it was an outstanding tournament overall. It was not a bad one, but there might be some recency bias there.

The post-SW19 period is always a strange one. Players quickly fan out, and there was a high calibre final in Bastad, Sweden at the weekend, where Andrey Rublev beat Casper Ruud. 

Carlos Alcaraz honoured his Hopman Cup commitment days after his Wimbledon triumph

Carlos Alcaraz honoured his Hopman Cup commitment days after his Wimbledon triumph

The Spaniard overcame Borna Coric and David Goffin in his singles matches on clay in Nice

The Spaniard overcame Borna Coric and David Goffin in his singles matches on clay in Nice

Some go on holiday and, in the case of double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, got married. Djokovic turned up on a boat with his family off the Dalmatian coast and, predictably, has pulled out of the Canadian Open early next month.

A contrasting surprise was Alcaraz fulfilling his commitment to turn up at the relocated, reconstituted Hopman Cup in Nice, taking place on clay for eight nations. 

You would not have put money on him switching surfaces so abruptly after a lengthy and exhausting run on grass, but there he was on the Friday, representing Spain. He won both matches, too, against strong opposition in Borna Coric and David Goffin. 

Many players shy away from abrupt changes of terrain, but the 20 year-old showed it can be done. Aside from the six-figure appearance fee, it might have something to do with gaining information for next year. 

That will see the crowded calendar come under even more pressure, catering for the Olympics. Wimbledon will finish on July 14 in 2024 and thirteen days later the medal campaign will begin, back on clay at Roland Garros.

Top players will need to have plan carefully how they approach their schedule. It would not be a massive shock if there are a few no-shows in Paris, although its location will be helpful in attracting the best. 

There is also the chance of it being the scene of a massive farewell.

Good on Alcaraz for honouring his Hopman Cup commitment. And full marks to anyone who can name the country which won the latest in tennis’s messy smorgasbord of team events (Croatia).

Andrey Rublev beat Casper Ruud in a high calibre final at the ATP 250 event in Bastad, Sweden

Andrey Rublev beat Casper Ruud in a high calibre final at the ATP 250 event in Bastad, Sweden

Raducanu backed to return to the top and keep changing coaches 

In an interview recorded with The Tennis Podcast, Max Eisenbud – Emma Raducanu’s agent – expressed optimism that ‘when everything settles down’ she will be back near the top of the game.

That has, broadly, been my view of the former British number one. Unquestionably she has real talent and, after a period of adjustment and catching up, she would realise her long-term potential. You genuinely hope this is going to happen, although my faith is not as unshakeable as it was. 

It is nearly two years since that incredible breakthrough at the US Open, and there are not many signs of things settling down and stabilising around the former British number one. By Flushing Meadows she will be below the ranking of 150 when she won it in 2021.

When it came to the question of why coaches come and go within a matter of months, Eisenbud was candid in expressing the view that it was likely to stay this way for the rest of her career

‘That’s what’s comfortable for them,’ he said, referring not just to the player herself, but significantly, her father Ian. Bringing on a talented player with a high profile would be tempting for any coach worth their salt, other aspects not so much, and recruitment will not be getting any easier.

Emma Raducanu's agent expects her to return to the top but continue to change coaches

Emma Raducanu’s agent expects her to return to the top but continue to change coaches

Grassroots coaches report increase in demand to play tennis 

A certain amount of scepticism is healthy when it comes to sports industry surveys about participation. 

The Lawn Tennis Association has released some very buoyant numbers this year, a few of which sound almost too good to be true, especially those relating to young adults.

Anecdotally you hear quite a bit about people taking up Padel in the UK, especially in the older age bracket, which you would also think may hit figures of people playing tennis regularly. 

Yet in recent weeks I have bumped in to several grassroots coaches from different areas of the country and asked what is happening on the ground. 

Unscientific though this is, they all report that in their lived experience the amount of those wanting to play tennis is very healthy and on the up. This is not just the usual bounce around Wimbledon, but at other times of year, apparently.

A friend who volunteers to help run a multi-sport club in the north is among those who recognises a trend away from amateur, non-football team sports, which require a lengthy and consistent time commitment every weekend. 

Fitting in with family, work and social life are more flexible activities like racket sports, cycling and golf, and the process has been accelerated by lifestyle changes in the wake of the pandemic. 

Setting aside scepticism about the exact accuracy of surveys, this is all entirely plausible.

Matthew Jordan came through qualifying before starring at the Open at his home golf club

Matthew Jordan came through qualifying before starring at the Open at his home golf club

No wildcard required for local hero Jordan at The Open 

Regular readers might recall that a few weeks ago the subject of wildcards was addressed, comparing the number handed out for Wimbledon to those at the Open. The gist was that there might be too many on offer at SW19, and too few at the British golf Major.

Illustrating the case was Matthew Jordan, a European Tour player, who needed to go through qualifying for Hoylake and, fortunately, had successfully done that. 

Having grown up as a member at Royal Liverpool, and knowing the course better than anyone, he would have been a fitting case for a wildcard if such a thing existed, and might perform well above his world ranking.

That turned out to be the reality, and against the world’s best players he finished tenth on four under par on Sunday. This being the part of the world I was raised, I happened to be in the clubhouse when he came into the main bar area after his closing round to see friends and family. 

The heartfelt, thunderous reception he received was quite something to behold – professional sport can be a ruthless and impersonal business, but it can also throw up some truly special moments, no wildcard required in the end.