Australian Open: In addition to her attacking tennis, should Caroline Garcia develop a plan B to go all the way?

This is the story of a realization. From a metamorphosis that allowed Caroline Garcia to pick up the thread of a career that had been stagnating (not to say worse) for a few seasons. From last June, the Lyonnaise adopted a style that allowed her to regain the best ranking of her career (world number 4) when she was 75th at the end of Roland-Garros. This bias was that of the offensive, of an aggressive tennis whose principle is an ultra-early grip of the ball to stifle his opponents in a few strikes.

And in fact, few obstacles have resisted her with two major achievements: Garcia broke her Grand Slam glass ceiling by reaching her first semi-final at the US Open last summer, before becoming the second Frenchwoman ( after Amélie Mauresmo) to win the Masters to end 2022. At this rate, the next objective is all found: to seek the Grail in one of the four monuments of the year, and why not from this Australian Open. But does she really have what it takes to achieve this?

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Last September, Mats Wilander expressed some doubts in an interview with our colleagues from L’Equipe. “She knows how she should play when she feels the ball well. Now she has to figure out how to play when things don’t go as planned. What is plan B? For the moment, there is no plan B. If Caroline continues in this direction, she must also realize that sometimes it does not work. And, in this case, strike slightly less hard in the same position or step back a little to give yourself more time. Put a little more security in your strikes“, he observed.

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The former Swedish champion then reacted to Caroline Garcia’s non-match against Ons Jabeur in the semi-final at Flushing Meadows (6-1, 6-3 defeat). No doubt nervous and taken by the event, the Lyonnaise had not changed her tune, despite the unforced errors which were accumulating. She had persisted in her ultra-offensive strategy, somehow locking herself into her style of play, even if it meant giving up on making her opponent doubt.

But a few weeks later, her aggressiveness paid off in Texas, giving her the biggest title of her career in the tournament bringing together the eight best players in the world. And Garcia to persist in the chosen path. “My tennis has been stable for the past six months. I managed to win matches by playing moderately well, and to find solutions. Above all, my playing identity is very clear. Whether it works or not, that’s where I have to go. I think that now I am more able to take on this style of play, when it is going well and when it is not so well, to take on my attitude, my identity, the presence that I have to show to impose myself on my opponents“, she insisted in the Player’s Voice format of Eurosport.

His game is aggression, but with adaptations depending on the opponents

If the Frenchwoman went for the Masters by playing this tennis, then why not a Grand Slam? Admittedly, it is a question of winning seven consecutive matches out of a fortnight, but she had a good 13 successes last summer from qualifying in Cincinnati to her half at the US Open. And above all, unlike the men, the format for the best of three sets remains the same, with a day of rest between each game, what’s more.

“Since mid-June, Garcia has had the pace of world No. 1, but his balance remains fragile”

With his style of play, Mats had to have a plan and had to have a plan B, because he didn’t have the weapons that other players could have: a huge serve or a huge forehand.nuance Patrick Mouratoglou. The pure attackers are not going to start defending, that’s for sure. They have their tennis with which they know how to win. (…) I think that Caroline must have a plan A+ rather than B. That is to say a plan obviously based on aggression because it is her game, but with adaptations when such and such a problem will arise. present: for example when a player manages to return it, or when a player takes the ball early and prevents her from coming to the net or when one day she passes less first balls.”

Garcia therefore remains straight in his boots. And with a few weeks of hindsight, our consultant Mats Wilander now takes another look at the conviction of the Frenchwoman. In addition to a tactical assertion, he sees it as a strong mental posture, but one that he believes is untenable in the long term.

Enough for a Grand Slam, less to be number 1

When Garcia says she only has plan A, what she really means is that when plan A doesn’t work out and she loses, she doesn’t really care. It doesn’t change her confidence, it doesn’t change the way she plays tennis. It’s a way of saying, ‘I used plan A and today it didn’t work. Next week I’m going to use it again and it might not work, and next week it might work.’ I think if you stick with your plan A and it doesn’t affect you mentally when it doesn’t work, then ok, it doesn’t matter. Have I ever seen a player not doubt so much? Not really.”

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The debate is also about the very notion of a game plan. By adding strings to her bow, should Garcia change the deep nature of her tennis? Isn’t it rather a story of degrees and sliders to be adjusted according to the very moments of a match (management of weak times and strong times on the physical level)? Everything also depends on the objective: if it is above all a question of winning a Grand Slam, the ultra-offensive plan A mastered to the extreme may be enough. Other players have shown it, like Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon a few months ago.

If it is a question of aiming for the place of world number 1 and maintaining a very high average level throughout the season, Wilander is more perplexed. “I think it’s time to move forward that she progresses and that she has in her suitcases a plan B and a plan C, to be even more serene when she uses plan A. And I think that she can do it because she has the physique for it. And if she does, then she will be on the level of Iga Swiatek. At the moment, it is not. But that doesn’t mean she’s less likely to win Grand Slams..”

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