Rivalries in sports have always captured the attention of fans around the world. Whether it’s on the field, pitch, ring, cage or even the tennis court, these battles between the best have always brought with them a sense of excitement that only a handful of events can match. The raw emotion and electricity of a clash of bitter rivals has almost always produced fireworks and it was no different during the Carlos Alcaraz vs Novak Djokovic match on the 21st of August 2023 which saw the latter holding back the young prodigy to claim the title at the Cincinnati Open. The stakes were high as the Spaniard had already beaten the Serbian just a month ago at Wimbledon and was looking to become the youngest player to win the title since Boris Becker in 1975.
Their fixture was one of the most exciting battles of will and skill that professional tennis has seen this year. The ebb and flow of the match was only surpassed by the skill and resilience shown by both competitors. In the face of another humiliating defeat at the hands of a young upstart, Djokovic showed up in prime form as he pulled out a hard-fought victory with a score of 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4). In many ways, this was one of the finest performances by the older Djokovic who, before the match, was being looked at in some quarters as past his prime. He clawed his way back to the top in stunning fashion and evened out the score against the Spaniard in a thrilling game. With the rivalry now dead even at two wins a piece, who will be the next to claim victory? We try to answer that question by deep-diving into the Carlos Alcaraz vs Novak Djokovic rivalry.
Carlos Alcaraz vs Novak Djokovic: Where did the rivalry begin?
The two first met each other at the ATP Masters 1000 Madrid tournament where the then 19-year-old stunned the crowd and pundits alike by defeating the Serbian in a close match to cinch the title. It was his coming out party and the world now knew exactly who he was. Novak was unfettered though as he stormed back at Roland-Garros in 2023 to tie the rivalry. It took the veteran four sets to do it but he got the job done and it was then that fans knew there was something special about the contests where these two took on each other. Then at the world’s biggest stage at Wimbledon 2023, Carlos Alcaraz stunned the Serbian once again, beating him in the finals to take over his spot as the number 1 seeded player in the world. As humiliating a defeat as that was, you can’t keep a good soldier down and Djokovic rallied back to hand the Spaniard another defeat on August 21 at the Cincinnati Open. As mentioned above, these two have faced each other four times now with 2 victories apiece. Talk about an evenly matched pair of competitors.
On one hand, we have the young 20-year-old upstart, looking to make a name for himself in the world of professional tennis. On the other, a grizzled veteran with undeniable skills and a wealth of knowledge owing to several impressive title wins. These are the rivalries that make sports so great. The very human experience of the young taking on the old, in the most simplistic terms, is how this rivalry could be looked at. Questions regarding Djokovic’s athletic prime, his longevity in the sport and his love for the game were all raised by a media that looked like it had an axe to grind with the Serbian. Maybe his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine played a part in the bad press, but as far as his skills are concerned, they are undeniable. Sure, he’s had to claw his way back from heavy defeats but the measure of a man like this cannot be summarised through just his defeats, it’s what he does after he’s lost it all that really counts. And, as far as winning is concerned, it looks like Djokovic has no plans of slowing down whatsoever.
Now let’s take a look at all of the Carlos Alcaraz vs Djokovic head-to-head fixtures in a bit more detail:
ATP Masters 1000, Madrid (Semi-Finals)
The two rivals first met at the ATP Masters 100 Madrid tournament in 2022. Alcaraz was 19 at the time and looking to make a splash in the world of professional tennis. On the other hand, Djokovic was walking into enemy territory in Spain. In what can be called a true show of grit and determination, Alcaraz showed incredible skills to win the match 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5). As most pundits at the time claimed, this was a thrilling contest between a rising star and a legend looking to hold on to his spot. Alcaraz was seeded number 7 at the time and this win propelled him into superstardom. In fact, he even defeated the great Rafael Nadal in the same tournament, picking up two scalps in the process. This was undoubtedly where the world was introduced to the undeniable talent of Carlos Alcaraz.
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Roland Garros, France (Semi-Finals)
In what was meant to be a crowning moment for the young Spaniard at Roland Garros, Djokovic swept in and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Alcaraz was looking like the world champion everyone thought he was and was expected to make short work of the Serbian, but as luck would have it, Djokovic showed up with a chip on his shoulder and took it to the Spaniard, beating him over the course of four sets with a score of 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1. It was a return to form for Djokovic as he dispatched his rival in the semi-finals and went on to win the entire tournament. Alcaraz did state that he felt nervous before the fixture and also went on to deal with severe cramping during the match. But, being the sportsman that he is, he brushed it all away and gave all the credit to his budding rival.
Wimbledon, Great Britain (Finals)
The third meeting between the two superstars took place at the prestigious Wimbledon tournament in England. With a win against his rival under his belt, Djokovic felt confident heading into the finals against a determined and focused Alcaraz. The match was a close contest with both contestants giving it their all. But, it was not meant to be for Djokovic as the Spaniard came roaring back to defeat the Serbian by a score of 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. After a rough start, Alcaraz rallied back to beat Djokovic on a surface he rules over. It was a stunning victory that had sports pundits all over the world proclaiming Alcaraz as the biggest thing in tennis. The young Spaniard had proven that he belonged at the top of the rankings and duly took over the number 1 seed from Djokovic.
ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A. (Finals)
Not content with just one victory under his belt, Djokovic stormed back in Cincinnati to even out the score against Alcaraz. With the odds stacked against him, the Serbian again proved why he cannot be counted out, even at his age. He had to fight through an early match point and rallied back to defeat his rival with a score of 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) to take home the prize. In the early going, it looked like Djokovic was struggling against the oppressive heat but being the great that he is, he rallied back to win the tournament, tying the score with two wins a piece. It was a thrilling match that saw an old lion take his rightful place at the top of the tennis mountain.
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(Main image credit: Roland Garros)
(Feature image credit: Carlos Alcaraz/Instagram)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– Has Novak Djokovic ever beaten Carlos Alcaraz?
Novak Djokovic has beaten Carlos Alcaraz twice, with the first win coming at Roland Garros, France and the second coming at the ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati Open.
– Who has the better world ranking: Carlos Alcaraz or Novak Djokovic?
As of September 2023, even after his defeat at the hands of Djokovic, Carloz Alcaraz is still ranked Number 1 with 9,815 points. Djokovic comes in a close second with a score of 9,795 points.