What are the chances Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz duel at the US Open?By Aug 26, 2023
Coco Gauff led the way, but it was a wildly successful US Open for American tennis at largeBy Sep 13, 2023
Daniil Medvedev was stubborn to a fault at the US Open, but still came away a winnerBy Sep 13, 2023
With the Grand Slam season in the books, what's the state of the ATP Tour in 2023?By Sep 12, 2023
Four Grand Slam winners, five storylines: The state of the WTA in 2023By Sep 11, 2023
Novak Djokovic put on one of his most impressive physical and tactical performances to win a 24th Grand Slam titleBy Sep 11, 2023
Novak Djokovic wins the US Open for his 24th Grand Slam title by beating Daniil MedvedevBy Sep 11, 2023
Novak Djokovic has won 24 Grand Slam titles. Here is a look at each oneBy Sep 11, 2023
Djokovic celebrates No. 24 with a tribute to Kobe Bryant, who wore that number and became a friendBy Sep 11, 2023
Novak Djokovic's US Open title gives him 24 Grand Slam titles. No one in tennis history has won moreBy Sep 11, 2023
What are the chances Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz duel at the US Open?
We look at what the history of past tennis rivalries involving a Wimbledon classic tells us.
Published Aug 26, 2023
In his trophy-ceremony speech at the Western & Southern Open last Sunday, Novak Djokovic said he hoped that he and the man he had just defeated, Carlos Alcaraz, could meet again in three weeks' time in New York, for the US Open title. Then an exhausted Djokovic laughed and said it might not be fun for him, but the fans would love it.
The latter statement is undeniably true. In the course of a little more than a year, Djokovic and Alcaraz have forged an entirely new rivalry that has already given us three classic matches. Unlike the Big 3, the 36-year-old Serb and the 20-year-old Spaniard are far apart in age; there are at least two generations of ATP players between them. Yet they’re very evenly matched. Three of their four meetings have gone down to the wire, and provided maximum shotmaking excitement.
“It’s like they’re the same person across the net,” the valet driver at my Cincinnati hotel told me earlier this week. He had never watched much tennis before seeing Alcaraz beat Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. Now he’s hooked.
NEW YORK—What are the chances they fulfill our hopes and face off in Arthur Ashe Stadium on September 10?
Neither is a lock to win six times, of course. Alcaraz was wildly up and down in Toronto and Cincinnati. Virtually every match he played went three sets, and involved multiple swings in his level of play. Djokovic, despite his dominance almost everywhere else, has won just three titles in 16 tries in New York, and none since 2018. Something always seems to get in his way—default, injury, exhaustion, banning—at the Open.
Still, they’re the solid favorites. They’re No. 1 and 2 in the world, and together they’ve won the last five majors; nobody else in the men’s draw has won a Slam since Daniil Medvedev did it at the Open in 2021. Djokovic and Alcaraz are both helped by playing best-of-five. Djokovic knows his way around that format better than anyone, while Alcaraz, with an extra set to play with, has more time to lose control of his game and then find it again. As of now, Djokovic’s draw looks to be the easier one. Three players in Alcaraz’s quarter—Alexander Zverev, Jannik Sinner and Cam Norrie—have recorded wins over him during the past 15 months.
Whatever happens at the Open, Djokovic and Alcaraz will take their place in a long line of rivals who have raised fans’ expectations for an epic, season-capping finale in New York. Sometimes those hopes are fulfilled, other times they’re crushed. Here’s a look at what happened to a few of those rivals when they got to New York, and what they might tell us about how Alcaraz and Djokovic will fare there this year.
Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert, 1978
The American and the Czech are only two years apart in age, but their positions in the sport in 1978 have similarities to Djokovic and Alcaraz. At that time, Evert had been winning major titles for five years, while Navratilova had thus far failed to capitalize on her obvious talents. That changed over the course of three classic sets at Wimbledon, when the volatile Navratilova surprised everyone by staying calm enough to come back from a one-set deficit and win the third, 7-5.
A rivalry, rather than just a friendship, was born that day, and tennis fans awaited the next installment at the brand-new National Tennis Center in Queens. The two progressed to the semifinals, with Evert beating 15-year-old “Chris Clone” Tracy Austin in the quarters. But it was another American upstart, 16-year-old Pam Shriver, who spoiled the party by stunning her future doubles partner Navratilova in the semifinals.
A new face had arrived, but a familiar one walked away with the title when Evert beat Shriver for her fourth straight Open. It would be three more years before Chris and Martina would meet in New York, and Martina would take the next step upward in her career.
Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe, 1980
This is still the ultimate one-two Wimbledon-US Open punch. The most famous men’s rivalry of all began in earnest when the Angelic Assassin met Superbrat for the first time on Centre Court. It would be known as The War of 18-16, after its famous fourth-set tiebreaker, but it’s better remembered as tennis’ version of Woodstock. The game’s 1970s golden age reached its peak that day, and the headbands, short shorts, long hair and wooden racquets that the Swede and the American sported remain quintessential tennis fashion to this day. Borg, the tennis version of the Beatles, beat McEnroe, its one-man Rolling Stones, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6, a score eerily similar to Alcaraz’s 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 8-6 win over Djokovic on the same court this year.
The following month, Borg and McEnroe both survived the hype in New York to make the final. Borg came back to beat Roscoe Tanner and Johan Kriek in five sets, while McEnroe did the same against Jimmy Connors in a fiercely contested semi. But if Wimbledon felt like Woodstock, the Open was the equivalent of Altamont to many fans, including the thousands of New Yorkers who cheered on the beloved Borg to beat the local villain McEnroe. Borg, who had won 13 straight five-set matches, came back from two sets down again, but this time he couldn’t win the fifth. Watching on TV, Billie Jean King said Borg would never be the same. “His armor was pierced.” He would win just one more major, and retire 12 months later.
Steffi Graf-Martina Navratilova, 1988
Chris vs. Martina is the legendary women’s rivalry, but Steffi vs. Martina was equally significant historically, and even more hotly contested. The two split their 18 matches 9-9, and six of them took place in Grand Slam finals. In 1987, the 30-year-old Navratilova, who had been No. 1 for five years, still had the upper hand on the fast-rising German teen, beating her in straight sets in the Wimbledon and US Open finals. The next year, though, Fraulein’s forehand began to have its way. At Wimbledon, after starting nervously and losing the first set, Graf finally broke loose from Navratilova’s suffocating lefty serve-and-volley attack and ran away with her first Centre Court title.
That gave Graf the first three majors of the season. A win at the Open and she would record the first Grand Slam since Margaret Court’s in 1970, as well as an unprecedented Golden Slam—all four majors plus Olympic gold. Everyone assumed Navratilova would have something to say about it, though. Even at 31, she refused to concede that Graf was the future and she was the past. Martina won her first four matches comfortably, and looked ready for a semifinal collision with another young star, Gabriela Sabatini.
Surely Zina Garrison, her quarterfinal opponent, would pose no trouble; Navratilova was 21-0 against her. But she wouldn’t get to 22 this day. Despite making a furious comeback from a set and two breaks down, she finally fell 7-5 in the third. “I had felt good coming into the Open,” a disappointed Navratilova said. “I felt like I was on my game again.”
The Graf-Navratilova showdown was over, and the German was soon the game’s first golden girl.
Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer, 2008
Could anything top The Greatest Match of All Time? Tennis fans were dying to find out at the Open in 2008. In July, Nadal had dethroned Federer at Wimbledon over five thrilling sets and seven agonizing, rain-soaked hours. Rafa followed that victory up by taking Roger’s No. 1 ranking, and capturing Olympic singles gold in Beijing. But the Open was still Federer’s. He was the four-time defending champion, and the world’s best hard-court player.
If anything, Federer, who was pushed to five sets by Igor Andreev in the fourth round, had the harder road to the semifinals. But it was in the semis that Nadal’s dazzling run came to an end against Andy Murray in four sets.
“It’s difficult, every day, to be fresh,” Nadal said. “So I know one day going to happen like [this]…When I have to split-step and run, much slow than usual, no? That’s the true.”
Federer would beat Murray for title No. 5 in New York the next day. Strangely, he would never win there again, while Rafa would go on to claim four titles in New York. Even more strangely, the two would never play at the Open. In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2017, they would come within one round of facing off in the Big Apple, but their paths would never cross.