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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Carlos Alcaraz Breaks Up Nadal-Djokovic Rivalry to Start a New Era

With a historic double victory at the US Open, young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz burst on Sunday like a hurricane in a tennis still dominated by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and threatens to finally open a new era.

At 19, the Spanish prodigy reached in New York his coveted first Grand Slam trophy and surpassed in precocity the ‘Big 3’ (Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer) to become the youngest number one in history.

In two dreamlike weeks at Flushing Meadows, where he emerged as the new fan favorite, Alcaraz crowned an extraordinary season in which he has won more trophies (5) and matches (51) than anyone else.

His double success at Flushing Meadows, with his extreme youth, confidence and devastating game, turn around men’s tennis, where the attention was almost monopolized by Nadal and Djokovic’s race for the most Grand Slam titles.

Nadal leads the race with 22 trophies and Djokovic is close behind with one less. Swiss Roger Federer, the other member of the ‘Big 3’ has been inactive for a season and his return to the elite is in question at the age of 41.

At 36 and 35, Nadal and Djokovic had captured the year’s three major titles before the start of the US Open. Looking back a little further, they had 15 of the last 17 Majors. 

Alcaraz’s victory may be the first stone to end this tyranny, although the dizzying rise of the young man from El Palmar (Murcia) has also benefited from extra-sporting factors, such as Djokovic’s absence due to his refusal to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

To the Serb, his almost perfect 2021 in the Grand Slams was thrown in this year’s ranking, when he could not defend his points as champion of the Australian Open and the U.S. Open.

At Wimbledon he played and won but did not score points because of the ATP’s sanctioning of the tournament due to the veto of Russian and Belarusian players because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Nadal, meanwhile, was the player with the best chance of reaching number one in New York after the elimination of the previous leader, Daniil Medvedev.

The illusions of regaining the top spot and lifting his coveted 23rd Grand Slam trophy vanished with a surprising elimination in the round of 16, weighed down by the little previous shooting allowed by his continuous injuries.

Fresh air

The astonishing longevity of the ‘Big 3’ has paved the way for several generations of tennis players.

Now, the last generation called to succeed them is also under threat by the rising gems such as Alcaraz or the Italian Jannik Sinner.

Medvedev, the only Grand Slam winner, Germany’s Alexander Zverev or Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, all between 24 and 26 years old, also do not hook the fans like Alcaraz does. 

Alcaraz, unanimously praised by his peers for his talent, effort and humility, is a breath of fresh air for a sport long concerned about the succession of the old guard.

The Spaniard’s dizzying tennis, with his inexhaustible catalog of magical strokes and magnetism with the crowd, conquered a New York that was eagerly awaiting him and where his face was omnipresent on buses and giant screens.

The epic battle that Alcaraz and 21-year-old Sinner waged this week until nearly 3 a.m. has pundits debating whether it could be the start of another legendary rivalry that draws more fans. 

“From the level I saw the other day, maybe Sinner and Carlos can dominate the circuit for the next 10 years,” Alcaraz’s coach Juan Carlos Ferrero reckoned on Sunday.

Ferrero, who was also a former world number one, believes his pupil has the conditions to be one of the greats in history.

“It will be very, very difficult to achieve what they (Nadal, Federer, Djokovic) have done in tennis. We are talking about 22 Grand Slams. He only has one. It’s a long way to go yet,” he recalled. “But who knows? I think he has all the tennis and the potential to be one of the best. All you have to do is try.”

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