Carlos Alcaraz vs Novak Djokovic has quickly become the preeminent rivalry in tennis this year after their Wimbledon epic and last month’s Cincinnati Open rematch. The tennis world fully expects the pair to meet again in the US Open final. However, 12 months ago, there was no such dynamic between them.
Watching from afar as his vaccination status made him ineligible to be any closer to last year’s US Open, Djokovic saw a new challenger come to the fore as Alcaraz won at Arthur Ashe Stadium while still a teenager. That was not the only title he left New York with, as the victory was enough for the Spaniard to ascend to World No. 1 for the first time.
However, three-time champion Djokovic took the demotion to second-best in his stride. He was quick to offer his congratulations to Alcarez on social media in a sign of respect from afar.
“Enhorabuena Carlos,” a post on Djokovic’s Instagram Stories read, congratulation him in the champion’s native tongue. “Congratulations @carlitosalcarazz for your first Grand Slam. Amazing performance.”
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At that stage, the two players at opposite ends of their careers were opponents out on the court only once before. That came during May’s Madrid Open, days after Alcaraz’s 19th birthday, when the teen took down Djokovic on clay in the semifinals 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5).
They would have to wait over 12 months until meeting again. The rematch came on the same surface at the French Open and at the same stage, with a place in the final at stake.
This time, the veteran would win out en route to a second straight Slam of the season. Over five sets this time, Djokovic prevailed 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
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Unlike last year, Alcaraz would only have to wait a little over a month before getting his opportunity to exact revenge. As the top two seeds at Wimbledon, it threw up the prospect of a first final between the pair on Centre Court.
Both held up their side of the bargain and the summer spectacle more than delivered. After wilting late at Roland Garros, the top seed showed remarkable character to come from behind and triumph on grass 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.
Another four weeks later, they again stood in each other’s way at the Cincinnati Open. On hardcourts, Djokovic outlasted his opponent 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4).
After their latest contest, they paid tribute to each other’s efforts. “It’s amazing sharing the court with you, playing you, learning from you,” Alcaraz admitted between fighting back the tears. “This match was really close, but I learned a lot from a champion like you, so congratulations to you and your team.”
“Crazy,” was how Djokovic described it. “Honestly, I don’t know what else I can say tough to describe, definitely one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played in my life, regardless of what tournament, what category, what player.”
With the series tied 2-2, Arthur Ashe Stadium is beckoning. Settling the scores, for now, in this year’s final is everyone’s expectation.
When Djokovic congratulated Alcarez on his US Open triumph last year, he probably couldn’t have predicted quite how their rivalry would develop. 12 months later, his battle with the Spaniard is the full focus of Flushing Meadows.
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