Coaches Corner

Coach Boynton Talks Game-Planning With Hurkacz For Alcaraz

Coaches' Corner Q&A with Hurkacz's coach
August 10, 2023
Craig Boynton watches his charge, Hubert Hurkacz, during a doubles match on Wednesday in Toronto.
Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour
Craig Boynton watches his charge, Hubert Hurkacz, during a doubles match on Wednesday in Toronto. By Andrew Eichenholz

Hubert Hurkacz will face the toughest test in tennis on Thursday when he plays World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the third round of the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers.

The pair's first Lexus ATP Head2Head clash came in last year's Miami Open presented by Itau semi-finals, won by Alcaraz 7-6(5), 7-6(2). This will be their first matchup since.

Ahead of the match, spoke to Hurkacz's coach, Craig Boynton, about how differently he gameplans for the very best players in the world, what makes Alcaraz unique and more.

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Obviously you prepare for every match. But how is it different when it is to compete against Alcaraz or someone at that level?
There are a few people. Take Novak for example — Hubi's played him six or seven times, and however many times he's played him, he hasn't beaten him. So with someone like that, you have to sit down and go, 'Okay, look, we need to change something.'

You've got to get out of your comfort zone in some way to make an impact. He's been close in a few of them, he just hasn't been able to get over the line. And listen, Novak's probably the greatest player to ever play. So there are people that you play, that you sit down [and say] these are [the] non-negotiables... The serve is back and you're in a neutral [rally] — This is the play, this is what you want to key in on, and you want to put the ball in this part of the court with X amount of speed and spin to get the desired ball that you want in order to be in total control of the point.

And if the player cannot neutralise Hubi's weapons, then it's more about just keeping your emotional control. And then, the longer the match goes, the more it favours Hubi, because he has the weapons that can't be neutralised. But at this rarefied air, these guys neutralise just about everything. So you need to be one step ahead.

How different is that compared to a typical match in which you're playing someone at Hubi's ranking compared to those in that rarefied air?
At Hubi's ranking right now, we have the luxury of having played most everybody. So we have a history, which is really invaluable. If you don't have the history, then it's really gathering all the information and trying to put Hubi in the best spot.

Now Hubi has a ridiculously great serve. And when that's rolling, he's going to hold against just about everybody. I know in game-planning against big servers, when you're on the return, you're just waiting for that one game where things don't go your way on the first serve. So then it's really about the tactics, because then it's 50-50 and that's when that's when you've got to be, really on point with really what you're trying to accomplish.

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You were talking about this sort of rarefied air, it's a very select group of players. From what you can say, what's different about Alcaraz compared to the likes of Djokovic and Nadal?
His skillset is [that] his average pace of ball is quite a bit higher than everyone's and there's a lot of great movement on the court. Not only is he a great mover, he just can see the play. His vision of the play is really incredible. I would joke that sometimes he knows where you're going to hit the ball before you know where you're going to hit the ball.

And then there's really no weakness per se. There's not something that breaks down. He competes really, really well. To be in the Top 20, you've got to be freakish at something and he seems to be freakish at everything.

What do you remember from Hubi's match against Alcaraz in Miami that stands out?
Hubi was up in both tie-breaks and very easily could have won 6 and 6. So I don't know if many people remember that.

Carlos is better and Hubi's better. Carlos has developed different gears and he's developed better tools and more precise tools, and he has a better understanding of his game. Hubi has a way of being able to kind of neutralise some of these big hitters with his athleticism and his speed. But again, you don't want to have to do that time and time again, because the great ones will be able to adapt and adjust just as Hubi's trying to adapt and adjust.

Carlos is on TV every match he plays. Do you have to sit and go through tape? Are you looking at the Miami match? How do you approach it?
I like to look at head-to-head. I also like to look at what they've been doing recently and then I'll take someone that maybe has beaten who I'm looking at and watch that and see what they did and see if they have comparable weapons that Hubi has.

I like to watch tape and see why somebody wins. And I also like to see what happens when they lost. A lot of pro tennis is matchups on the day. So some of the times the rhythms were off or whatever, they had in their personal life, something didn't go well or something like that. So I like to take about 20 minutes and just go, 'He's really good when this happens and we want to get you in this position'.

So it's not you're not sitting there on watching the film for three hours or something like that?
No, I'm not I because I want to keep it simple. Most of how I coach and how I coach Hubi is we go on the court and when the ball comes here, this is how you want to hit it. When the ball comes here, here are your options. And let him play prepared. I like to let my players play prepared, and obviously the better he's serving and the more free points he has, that can free him up in other areas.

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