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'This is what everybody wanted': Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic set Cincinnati showdown
Will they give us another classic in the Western & Southern Open final on Sunday? And who will walk away the winner?
Published Aug 20, 2023
WATCH: After winning his semifinal against Hubert Hurkacz, Carlos Alcaraz met the media.
CINCINNATI, Ohio—“This is what everybody wanted and expected at the start of the tournament,” Novak Djokovic said when he was asked about his Sunday final against Carlos Alcaraz. “Now here we are.”
It sounds like Djokovic doesn’t mind going up against the man who beat him in the Wimbledon final five weeks ago.
“It seems like it’s turning into a rivalry,” Djokovic said. “I’m loving it.”
He also noted that he has faced Alcaraz in each of the last three tournaments he has played. In the semifinals at Roland Garros, they split two scintillating sets before Alcaraz cramped. In the Wimbledon final, they fulfilled the promise of that Paris match, and then some, in a five-set classic won by Alcaraz.
After meeting on clay and grass, they’ll complete the surface trifecta when they face off on hard courts for the first time in Cincinnati.
Memorable things happen when these two get together. They played the best match of 2022 in the semifinals in Madrid, and they played the best match of 2023 so far—and probably of the decade—at Wimbledon. Each has a distinctive style—the 20-year-old Alcaraz is an all-court gunslinger; the 36-year-old Djokovic is a paragon of efficiency. But the combination of the two, and their ability to hit and run with equal brilliance, throws off sparks.
Alcaraz won at Wimbledon and Madrid, but both matches came down to the wire and could have gone either way. Each man is playing his first ATP event since Wimbledon, but they’ve traveled very different roads to this final.
Djokovic has had a surprisingly smooth ride for someone competing in first hard-court tournament since February. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina retired for their second-round match after one set, and Gael Monfils and Taylor Fritz gave subpar efforts in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively. Alexander Zverev did push him through two close sets, but couldn’t get it to a third. Djokovic has looked better with each round, and after tightening up while serving for the match at 5-4 in the second against Zverev, he had no trouble breaking back right away and holding for the win.
Alcaraz, by contrast, has taken the long way to Sunday. All four of his matches—against Jordan Thompson, Tommy Paul, Max Purcell, and Hubert Hurkacz—have gone three sets. Hurkacz had a match point at 5-4 in the second set, but hesitated just long enough on an easy forehand to send it wide. He also led 4-1 in the second-set tiebreaker, before Alcaraz roared back to hit three forehand winners and win six straight points for the set. It was the first time all week that his game has caught fire for any extended period.
Has Alcaraz found his top gear just in time for the final? Despite playing significantly more tennis than Djokovic, he says he’s no worse for wear.
“Probably the people can think that I’m going to be tired in the final,” Alcaraz says. “But I feel good. It doesn’t matter if I play in third set, long matches, I’m recovering really, really well with my physio, with my team.”
“I feel like I’m going to play the first match of the tournament,” he added with a smile.
It’s tough to make a pick. Djokovic is one of the game’s great hard-court players, but Alcaraz is the defending US Open champion. Alcaraz should be confident after beating Djokovic at Wimbledon, but Djokovic should be motivated not to lose two in a row to him before they go to Flushing Meadows. Djokovic has played the higher level overall in Cincy, but Alcaraz probably still has the higher ceiling. The crowd has supported both men this week, but I’m guessing Alcaraz will get more of it than Djokovic in the final.
Which Alcaraz will we see on Sunday? That’s probably the bottom line question. Will he still be searching for his form, or will the bright lights of this moment bring out his best right away? He has said that playing Djokovic makes him nervous, but he didn’t show any of those nerves when he served out the Wimbledon final.
While Alcaraz can lift his game above anyone’s right now, and could easily do just that in the final, Djokovic has been the surer thing this week.