New York: Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic will bring a Broadway buzz to the US Open next week as tennis’s hottest rivalry takes centre stage at the season’s final Grand Slam.
There is no guarantee the world’s two top ranked players will square off at Flushing Meadows but it is without doubt the matchup everyone wants for the men’s final on September 10.
Although they have met just four times, the Djokovic/Alcaraz rivalry has already reached a Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal frenzy, pushing ticket prices through the Arthur Ashe Stadium’s retractable roof.
Epic encounters missing at US Open
In tennis you pay your money ($652 for a last row upper bowl seat) and take your chances. If the stars align you get a Djokovic and Alcaraz final or you could find you have just paid $25,000 to sit courtside to watch Jannik Sinner and Alex de Minaur play for the title as they did in Toronto.
Federer and Nadal clashed 40 times, many of them epic encounters including Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon finals, but it was a matchup denied the US Open.
Not only did the two greats never play for a US Open title their head-to-head meetings did not feature a single match on the Flushing Meadows hard courts.
The prospect of a third Alcaraz v Djokovic final in two months has excited the tennis world and is more than marketing hype.
Pretty good odds
“It’s remarkable what we’re watching, and certainly him (Djokovic) and Alcaraz are the two guys coming in that you figure the odds are pretty good that one of those two is going to win it,” assessed seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe, now a commentator with ESPN.
As a sporting spectacle Alcaraz and Djokovic matches have delivered on every level and would be worthy of the Big Apple spotlight.
The two currently own all four Grand Slams with Djokovic holding the Australian and French Open crowns and Alcaraz the Wimbledon and US Open titles.
Djokovic’s French Open win over the rattled Spaniard followed by an absorbing three-set victory in the Cincinnati Open final last Sunday signalled the Serb is going to have to be dragged from his throne.
Sturdy stuff from Spaniard
At the same time Alcaraz has proven he is made of sturdy stuff, the world No 1 rebounding from his French Open disappointment in steely style to deny Djokovic a men’s record-equalling eighth Wimbledon crown.
“All of the matches we played against each other went the distance,” said Djokovic, following his Cincinnati win. “First match in Madrid last year, 7-6 in the third, 7-6 in the third today.
“Both Grand Slam matches, four and five-setters.
“It just keeps getting better for the fans.” Certain to be on opposite sides of the draw, all the elements for a potential classic are in place with the fearless 20-year-old Spaniard on a collision course to meet the remaining standard bearer of the Big Three. The 36-year-old Serb, who won his first ATP title when Alcaraz was three years old, returns to Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2021 after he was unable to compete at the US Open last year due to being unvaccinated against Covid-19.
While Alcaraz and Djokovic are the undisputed headliners there are contenders flying under the radar.
Third-ranked Daniil Medvedev is the most obvious threat, the Russian producing some of his best work on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts and beating Djokovic to lift the 2021 trophy.
Plenty to cheer for home crowd
Casper Ruud was the losing finalist to Alcaraz last year but the world No 5 has suffered indifferent form since a loss to Djokovic in the French Open final, with just one win in his two tuneup events in Toronto and Cincinnati. In contrast Italy’s world No 6 Sinner is coming off a tournament win in Toronto while Germany’s Alexander Zverev, a losing finalist in 2020, has had a solid buildup with a run to the Cincinnati semi-finals that included a victory over Medvedev.
The home crowd should have plenty to cheer with two Americans ranked in the top 10, Taylor Fritz at nine and Frances Tiafoe 10, both looking to become the first American to hoist the trophy since Andy Roddick in 2003.