The stage is set for another epic showdown between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open which starts on Monday.
The pair have thrilled tennis fans this season with two special matches, first in the Wimbledon final and then most recently at the Cincinnati Open.
Djokovic described last Sunday’s Cincinnati Open final victory over Alcaraz as “one of the toughest matches” of his career and the three-set, nearly four-hour clash will surely go down as one of tennis’ all-time great encounters.
World No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, Alcaraz and Djokovic played some otherworldly tennis in Cincinnati as the sport’s burgeoning rivalry continues to enthrall fans in the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
In truth, it’s almost impossible to see a US Open winner beyond Alcaraz, the defending champion, and Djokovic with the pair simply in a league of their own compared to the rest of the draw.
A mere 20 points separate Alcaraz from Djokovic at the top of the world rankings, before a steep drop off of more than 3,500 points to Daniil Medvedev at No. 3.
Men’s tennis has been reliant on the epic rivalries between Nadal, Federer and Djokovic over the years and while it may be hyperbole to say Alcaraz’s emergence has saved the sport, the Spaniard’s rise certainly makes the transition into the next era significantly smoother.
The 20-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable season in 2023, winning six titles that include Wimbledon – his second grand slam – and two Masters 1000 events.
After his stunning five-set win over Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, Alcaraz’s form briefly deserted him in a shock quarterfinal defeat to Tommy Paul at the Canadian Open but he bounced back brilliantly to play some of his best tennis of the season in his run to the final in Cincinnati.
Alcaraz enters the tournament as the top seed, and faces a possible quarterfinal rematch with Jannik Sinner, a year after their epic five-set classic which saw Alcaraz win at 2.50 a.m. setting a record for the latest finish for a match at the US Open.
He is also in the same side of the draw as third seed Medvedev who he could face in the semifinals.
“What Alcaraz has done in the last year is unbelievable,” seven-time grand slam champion John McEnroe told Eurosport. “[He’s] the best I’ve ever seen at this age.
“Novak is incredible how good he still is, to see the all-time great play against the young superstar is incredible. I’d love to see that match played again.
“The last couple of matches have been close and incredible matches, let’s hope it lasts.”
Djokovic’s win over Alcaraz in Cincinnati was his fourth title of the year, including victories at the Australian Open and French Open to take his grand slam tally to 23.
The Serb is in the United States for the first time since 2021 due to his unvaccinated status but made up for lost time by immediately returning to winning ways in Cincinnati.
Djokovic faces Frenchman Alexandre Muller in the first round and is in the same quarter of the draw as Stefanos Tsitsipas.
He may now be 36 years of age and firmly in the twilight of his career but Djokovic is still capable of consistently producing his best tennis, meaning fans likely have plenty more match ups to look forward to between the world’s two best players.
Best of the rest
As world No. 3 and a former US Open champion, Russia’s Medvedev is the most likely of the chasing pack to cause an upset at Flushing Meadows.
The 27-year-old has faced hugely contrasting fortunes in the first and second half the season. Medvedev won five ATP Tour titles in the first five months of 2023, including two Masters 1000 tournaments and a run of three consecutive tournament wins in the month of February.
However, his form has largely tailed off since winning his last title against Holger Rune at the Rome Masters.
Soon after that tournament, Medvedev suffered a shock first-round defeat to Thiago Seyboth Wild at the French Open and – aside from a career best semifinal appearance at Wimbledon – hasn’t won more than two matches at a tournament since.
Medvedev is without doubt a contender at the US Open, but only if he can recapture his early season form.
After reaching the final in 2022, Capser Ruud – who has now lost on all three of his grand slam finals appearances – has plenty to play for as he hopes to defend the rankings points earned during last year’s run.
The world No. 5 has also endured an up and down season, the peak of which came during a four-week window in May and June when he reached the semifinals of the Rome Masters and then the final of the French Open.
Now with increased experience in grand slam finals, perhaps the 2023 US Open will finally be the tournament Ruud banishes his grand slam final demons.