After Pete Sampras won the U.S. Open in 2002, the game of tennis had evolved into more baseline play and less movement towards the net. However, that has begun to change, and I believe that the recent success of Carlos Alcaraz will be the catalyst to turn things back in the direction of the aggressive net players.
Many modern day professionals have started the point returning serve from 10 feet plus behind the baseline. A large number of these players hit more balls from that area or farther back during the majority of the point. Moving in to the net occurs when the match is over, usually to shake hands. The best players (think Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer in recent years) have been able to play from deep in the court but move in if they get their opponent in trouble, even coming to the net at times to finish the point. They have been the exception rather than the rule.
But Alcaraz has changed this scenario. He can be consistent and incredible on defense, turn the point around with his offense or with a drop shot, and volley like no other when the opponent is hanging back-not to mention his tremendous serving and return of serve. He has all of the fundamentals, athletic ability, strategic capabilities, and mental fortitude of many of the best players we have seen in the past 20 years-except that he is better overall at using these tools.
I urge players at all levels who want to improve their results, to work on their all court game. Don't just go out and hit groundstrokes, running side to side and backwards. Practice serving, returning, defending, improving your position, volleying, hitting overheads, dropshots, consistent and deep, fast and looping, topspin and slice. Get better at everything from all areas on the court. This all court approach will pay dividends down the road.
Steve Annacone, USPTA Elite Pro, is the Director of Annacone Tennis, www.annaconetennis.com and MyHamptonsPro, www.myhamptonspro.com throughout the Hamptons, NY. In addition, Steve and Miguel Coelho have introduced the JET (Junior Elite Tennis) program at the Tucson Jewish Community Center (Tucson, AZ) for high level players ages 8-18. Please contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org