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Explaining Jesper de Jong’s trick shot that stunned Carlos Alcaraz at the French Open

Written by on June 6, 2024

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The cold and rain has made this a gloomy French Open so far, but on Wednesday afternoon Jesper de Jong offered a little reminder of the importance of doing something just for the hell of it.

De Jong, who is ranked No 176 and stands at 5ft 11in (180cm) with a slight frame, is not a well-known name in tennis. He played well on Wednesday, in what was ultimately a four-set defeat to reigning Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz. But midway through the loss, he pulled off one of the shots of the tournament so far, against arguably the best shotmaker in men’s tennis.

De Jong, a 23-year-old qualifier from the Netherlands, was down a set and 1-0 but 40-15 up on his serve. He had just chased down a drop shot when he had to scuttle back to the baseline. From there, he dug out a drop shot of his own that drew Alcaraz in.

Alcaraz responded with another “droppie” (thanks Alex de Minaur), which De Jong anticipated and dealt with in the most idiosyncratic way imaginable. Approaching with his body oriented to hit a conventional single-handed sliced or volleyed backhand, he ingeniously flipped his racket and hit the ball with the wrong side of the strings in an extreme forehand grip, creating a sort of inverted backhand.

This allowed him to create a straighter angle than a normal backhand would have permitted, with more power and less air than a slice, by freeing his wrist to flick through the line of the ball. It forced Alcaraz back, and he missed with a backhand flick of his own.


Normally when a player hits a trick shot, their explanation is that it was instinctive and that they didn’t have much choice (unless they’re Alexander Bublik). Ons Jabeur said as much about a tweener she hit against Belinda Bencic last year in a recent interview with The Athletic. “I didn’t have any other choice, to be honest,” she said. “At the time I thought. ‘The ball is going to hit me if I don’t move out of the way’. And I was super-late, the ball is right on me.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

My game in my words. By Ons Jabeur

Alcaraz himself was in a comparably desperate situation to Jabeur when he hit a similar shot to De Jong’s, albeit on the forehand side, in the Indian Wells final against Daniil Medvedev in March.

De Jong’s motivation, though, was different.

“Because it’s funny,” he told The Athletic when asked why he had hit that shot.

Is it a useful shot to be able to hit?

“No, no,” De Jong said, laughing. “It’s just for the fun. I don’t know if it’s useful, but I find it a pretty shot.”

De Jong explained that he stole the idea of the shot from compatriot Robin Haase, the former world No 33 who is playing doubles at this French Open.

“Robin Haase came up with that shot and he texted me afterwards saying, ‘Good that you memorised it, and good that you gave me some exposure’,” De Jong said.

Haase has indeed hit this shot, including in the quarter-finals at the Halle Open in Germany against France’s Richard Gasquet seven years ago.

Haase’s effort earned a big grin from Gasquet, himself an exquisite shotmaker.

“I try it in practice and my coaches don’t really like it,” De Jong says. “But I just felt like it and I’m happy it worked, because if it doesn’t, it’s pretty sad.”

Why might a coach not like it?

Paul Annacone, who works with the American No 1 Taylor Fritz and once coached players including Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, puts it like this: “I am always fearful of injuries when players get too tricky or contorted — so it’s a risk! But it worked.”

In other words, it’s a shot to be filed in the “don’t-try-this-at-home” category, as Jabeur put it in that same interview last week. As for the difficulty, Annacone also says that, for current players, it’s “not an incredibly hard” shot to pull off.

“Some good talent level here, but nothing surprises me these days with how good everyone is,” he added.

Alex Corretja, the two-time French Open runner-up and now an analyst for Eurosport TV, was even more impressed by what he saw.

“First of all, you need to have a lot of imagination to do that,” Corretja says. “Next, you need to have the hands in order to change the direction of the racket to put it on the other side of the court — you need to really feel it. Also, you need to be enjoying the moment. If you’re in a situation where you’re not feeling free enough to do that, it’s impossible. That showed you how much fun De Jong was having out on the court.

“I would say, in a tight moment, he never would’ve done that. He did it because he was there and had unbelievable momentum. It’s not simple at all. You need to be nice with a racket and you need to know what you’re doing. When you’re close to the net, you have a chance, but never everyone can do this type of thing. So, it’s a very nice effort indeed from De Jong.”

Alcaraz grinned in the moment, and afterwards said: “I have seen these kinds of shots, but it’s unusual.”

He added with a smile that “it was kind of frustrating” to lose the point, and: “(Those kind of) points, I think he did it much better than me today.”

De Jong will now return to the second-tier Challenger circuit and hope to work his way back to taking on players such as Alcaraz.

He departs this level for the moment having provided the 2024 French Open with a “funny” moment to enjoy — on a rainy day when everyone needed a bit of a laugh.

(Richard Callis/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

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