Alcaraz needs new rivals for a new era

Novak Djokovic was still trying to digest the loss of his Wimbledon crown to Carlos Alcaraz when one reporter asked him whether Sunday’s clash was the start of a great rivalry.

The irony was not lost on Djokovic who, despite still operating at his peak, is 36-years-old and in sight of the end of his record-shredding career.

Djokovic’s rivalries with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, not to mention Andy Murray, have captivated the sport for close to two decades, but time is against him forming another one with Alcaraz, so Sunday’s five-set duel should be savoured.

He played Federer 50 times, 17 of them at majors; Nadal on 59 occasions, 18 of them at majors and Murray 36 times with 10 of them at Grand Slam level.

So far he has faced the 20-year-old Alcaraz three times.

Certainly the prospect of another showdown at the U.S. Open in a few weeks is exciting, but whether or not 23-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic can stretch his career long enough to battle Alcaraz on a regular basis is questionable.

“I think it’s good for the sport, one and two in the world facing each other in five-hours, five-set thrillers. Couldn’t be better for our sport in general, so why not?” Djokovic said.

The reality, however, is that world number one Alcaraz could be left without a serious rival, certainly amongst the current Next Gen brigade who appear a long way behind the Spanish phenomenon.

“Who’s going to match this kid for the next few years?” 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said after Alcaraz ended Djokovic’s 34-match winning run at the grasscourt slam.

Hopefully, Alcaraz’s meteoric rise will have a positive impact on those around the same age group, just as Federer and Nadal inspired Djokovic to become the player he is.

Italian Jannik Sinner, 21, beat Alcaraz at last year’s Wimbledon but has reached only one Grand Slam semi-final so far, losing to Djokovic in straight sets last week.

Denmark’s new world number four Holger Rune, 20, has the game and personality to form a rivalry with his former junior sparring partner Alcaraz, while Italian Lorenzo Musetti, 21, is another with the potential to step up.

But for the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev — players who were supposed to have filled the void after the ‘big three’ depart — they have watched Alcaraz zoom by them.

Medvedev, the 2021 U.S. Open champion, was outclassed by Alcaraz in the Wimbledon semi-final, lasting less than two hours on Centre Court.

While professional sport is full of pitfalls and those suggesting Alcaraz will be sweeping titles for another decade at least, should pause for thought.

Federer, Djokovic and Nadal often talk about the motivation each gave each other as the bar was pushed higher and higher.

Between them they won 65 Grand Slam titles and it has to be hoped that Alcaraz finds a couple of adversaries to share the load as tennis moves into a new era.

“I think he’s already taken Sinner with him and he will take Holger Rune with him, although Holger Rune maybe hasn’t latched on to the idea yet,” seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander told Reuters.

“Roger made Novak and Rafa think ‘hey this gut is not going to give us anything, we have to go and take it from him’ and I think Carlos can definitely be that guy.”

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