Beyond The Numbers

Rise Up! Alcaraz's winning Madrid formula

Alcaraz's Madrid 2023 opponents' average contact height was 1.22 metres
April 26, 2024
ATP Tour
By Craig O'Shannessy

Get the ball up!

The age-old strategy of using height as a weapon on clay is still alive and kicking in today’s game. An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Carlos Alcaraz’s title run at the Mutua Madrid Open last year identifies he made his opponents contact the ball higher on average then he did in all six matches played.

It’s important to note that Madrid is 655 metres (2149 feet) above sea level and has the fastest clay-court playing conditions on tour. Because of the altitude, the ball gets through the court faster in Madrid than in other clay court ATP Masters 1000 cities such as Monte-Carlo and Rome. But Alcaraz was still able to use height as a primary weapon to secure a coveted Masters 1000 title on home soil.

The table below breaks down the average rally height for Alcaraz and all six of his opponents in Madrid in 2023.

Average Rally Contact Height (Metres)

Round  Opp. Alcaraz Opp.
F Struff 0.99 1.15
SF Coric 1.14 1.21
QF Khachanov 1.1 1.22
R4 Zverev 1.19 1.30
R3 Dimitrov 0.95 1.24
R2  Ruusuvuori 1.08 1.27
  Average 1.08 1.22

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Alcaraz’s average contact height was 1.08 metres above the ground, while his opponents averaged 1.22 metres. This 24-centimetre difference in height was aimed at getting the ball up above the opponents' strike zone to make it more difficult for them to attack. Putting more shape on the ball allowed Alcaraz to get his heavy groundstrokes away from the net and to also dip down quickly into the court before the far baseline came into play.

The largest height difference compared to his opponents was against Grigor Dimitrov, where the Bulgarian made contact 31 centimetres on average higher than Alcaraz. The closest gap was against Borna Coric, of just seven centimetres.

The trade-off for Alcaraz chasing height to force opponents into committing errors was that his groundstroke ball speed was slightly below what his opponents were producing.

Average Forehand Speed
Alcaraz: 116 km/h
Opponents: 120 km/h

Average Backhand Speed
Alcaraz: 105 km/h
Opponents: 109 km/h

Alcaraz was chasing the sweet spot where the height and speed of his groundstrokes were able to make his opponents as uncomfortable as possible. Overall, Alcaraz hit 54 per cent (524/967) of his groundstrokes as a forehand, while his opponents were almost the same at 53 per cent (520/974).

For Alcaraz, it was also about being the first to strike in the rally rather than following the traditional clay court mantra of consistency, shot tolerance, and grinding. The overwhelming amount of rallies he won were in single digits of zero-nine shots compared to extended double-digit rallies of 10 shots or greater.

Alcaraz Points Won
Single Digit Rallies = 93% (414/442)
Double Digit Rallies = 7% (28/442)

Opponents Points Won
Single Digit Rallies = 92% (343/373)
Double Digit Rallies = 8% (30/373)

Look for Alcaraz to once again use height and spin to fuel his potent baseline game in Madrid this year. Getting the ball up on opponents may be more of a subtle weapon compared to power and direction, but it played a major part in him taking home the silverware in the Spanish capital last year.

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