After Wimbledon and Cincinnati, the US Open salivates with another duel between Alcaraz and Djokovic

"The incredible awaits you.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
26 August 2023 Saturday 10:27
1 Reads
After Wimbledon and Cincinnati, the US Open salivates with another duel between Alcaraz and Djokovic

"The incredible awaits you." For weeks now, hundreds of advertisements for the US Open have dotted the Big Apple with this slogan, under the photo of a smiling Carlos Alcaraz, with his fist raised. A year ago, the world number one amazed New Yorkers and took the first Grand Slam of his young career, conquering the public with his grit and joy. Twelve months later, Carlitos returns to New York willing to defend his title.

The Murcian has changed a lot in that year. "Let's just say I'm more famous now," he conceded. His fame no longer allows him to go unnoticed or in the maelstrom of the streets of this iconic city. “Sometimes I would like to feel like a normal boy, and not be recognized so much, but that is going to be impossible. I have to enjoy that part too."

Asking some locals about Manhattan, many know who he is and those who follow the sport a little more are quick to prove it with additional descriptions (the Wimbledon champion, the king of tennis in Spain) and with epithets like "boy wonder" (the amazing boy)” or “wunderkid” (the wonder child). To top it off, some call him "Carlito". (Insert rolling eye emoji here.)

Alcaraz is now synonymous with great spectacle, especially after this summer, which saw his rivalry with Novak Djokovic intensify: the Spaniard ousted the Serb to clinch his second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in July, and Nole got his revenge in the Cincinnati Masters last week, in an exciting and close final. “Carlos always pushes me to the limit. And I think I do the same with him. That is why we produced a memorable final”, explained the Serb.

A few hours before the start of the tournament, the atmosphere is heated, and not precisely because of the temperatures. Everyone is talking about another possible duel between the two best. And most likely there will be a change of reign at the top of the ranking when the competition ends. Alcaraz enters the tournament as number one, but unless Djokovic loses his first round meeting with Frenchman Muller, he will walk away in second place, even if he were to be crowned champion again.

Djokovic lands at the US Open with great desire, after a two-year absence due to not being vaccinated against Covid. Since he does not defend points, it is enough for him to overcome his first match to return to the top, increasing his record of weeks as number one to 390. "Every Grand Slam that I play is a golden opportunity to make history."

As the tournament's first and second seeds respectively, Djokovic and Alcaraz are guaranteed not to meet until the final. The fans' mouths are already watering, and that of the organizers, even more. Even the rest of the tennis players have something to say about it. "Even when they play against each other, they are capable of turning a game around over and over again," analyzed Medvedev, who follows them in the ranking. “That is why they are number one and two. It is a great rivalry. But in every tournament everyone's goal is to try to prevent them from meeting again." Tiafoe assured that "Alcaraz is the man to beat if you want to do something special in tennis today."

But before thinking about another historic duel, another legendary final, both Alcaraz and Djokovic have a long way to go. To begin with, the Wimbledon champion will have to beat German Dominik Koepfer in the first round. Norrie, Medvedev, Rublev, Zverev, De Miñaur and Khachanov are also in his part of the draw, and if the forecasts come true, Carlitos could repeat the quarterfinals against Jannik Sinner, with whom he had an anthological duel in 2022.

The Serbian does not have it much easier in the lower part of the field, where Auger-Aliassime, Tsitsipás, Rune, Ruud and the American squad, led by Fritz, are running in search of the first Slam for their country in 20 years, since the victory Andy Roddick in Flushing. "I think it is disrespectful to your next opponent that you are thinking about your rival in the final," said Djokovic, who will seek refuge at a friend's house in New Jersey from now on. “This is an amazing city, but after a while it becomes a distraction. When the competition starts, you need calm and take things day by day”.

In the women's competition, Iga Swiatek, who has won three of the last six majors, is the great favourite, with the permission of Sabalenka, Pegula, Rybakina and Jabeur. "Defending the title is not easy and I'm going to take it step by step," acknowledged the Pole, who despite being 22 years old has a lot of experience managing the pressure from the top. “I have learned that I have to think about myself, and not about rankings or points. I have to focus on growing as a player, because there are many things I want to change or improve."

Among the Spanish, Paula Badosa reappears, who has not played for several weeks due to injury. She will debut in Arthur Ashe against the very veteran Venus Williams, who at 43 years old is still competing.

This edition is also the 50th anniversary of the achievement of equality in prize money, a claim led in 1973 by Billie Jean King. This fact is not lost on Ons Jabeur, the Wimbledon finalist. "It's great that we have equal prizes in the Grand Slams, but I think we have to improve in other tournaments." The Tunisian has recently become part owner of a North Carolina women's soccer team, the NC Courage. “I always try to support women's rights. I think we deserve more. In tennis we are playing very well. We have had great generations. I think that in women's football it will be the same. It's hard to get ahead."