Carlos Alcaraz Looks Like the Man to Beat
Tennis: Focus On Alcaraz And Djokovic
It’s midway through the year, the players are in the midst of the clay court season, there is much tennis still to be played and yet a few pointers are already available as to how the men could fare for the next seven months before the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) circuit draws to a close with the Tour finals in November.
For starters, Carlos Alcaraz looks like the man to beat despite starting the year as the No. 1 ranked player and slipping to second behind Novak Djokovic. Largely this is because he had to miss the Australian Open due to a hamstring injury. The year’s first Grand Slam was won by Djokovic who in the process not only notched up his 22nd Grand Slam title, bringing him on par with Rafael Nadal, but also saw him regain the top spot.
Since then however Alcaraz who sensationally won the US Open last year has done little wrong. At the Indian Wells Masters he recorded his 100th career win making him the second fastest to reach this milestone after John McEnroe and faster than The Big Three.
He went on to win the title with victories over Jannik Sinner and Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals and final. It was his third Masters 1000 title and he became the first player to win the tournament without dropping a set since Roger Federer in 2017.
As a result he returned to world No 1 in March. Then in Miami where he was the defending champion he reached the semifinals without dropping a set before going down to Sinner. As a result he dropped to No 2 in the rankings.
Alcaraz was then scheduled to play at the Monte Carlo Masters but withdrew due to arthritis in his left hand. He began the European clay court swing at the Barcelona Open where he was defending champion. He retained the crown without dropping a set, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final for his third title of the season.
Right now then the prodigiously talented Spaniard who turns 20 next week is the hottest property around the circuit. However with the competition being what it is he cannot afford to take things lightly, certainly not with Djokovic still around.
Not only is the Serb, who turns 36 next month, the No 1 he is still hungry for success, the Australian Open triumph being proof of this. And now that he has the opportunity to go ahead of Nadal in terms of record Grand Slam titles he will strain every sinew to win at least one of the three remaining Grand Slams of the year.
It has already been a significant 2023 for Djokovic as besides his achievement at the Australian Open in February he tied Steffi Graf’s record for most weeks (377) as world No 1 she set 25 years ago. The following week he broke the record with 378 weeks at No 1 the most by any male tennis player in the Open era.
Djokovic’s appearances in tournaments however have been limited. He was forced to withdraw from both Indian Wells and Miami after being denied a visa into the USA due to being unvaccinated. He then began his clay court season at Monte Carlo where he was upset by Lorenzo Musetti in the round of 16.
At the Banja Luka Open as the top seed he lost in the quarterfinals to compatriot Dusan Lajovic. This led to him withdrawing from the Madrid Open the following week. Despite two triumphs at Roland Garros clay is not Djokovic’s favourite surface so he could possibly have to wait till Wimbledon to have a serious shot at Grand Slam No 23.
So where does all this leave “clay king” Nadal? Actually little has gone right for him this year. He started the year as defending champion at the Australian Open but lost in the second round.
During the match Nadal was severely hampered by a hip injury for which he received treatment throughout the match. In February Nadal announced his withdrawal from the Indian Wells and Miami Masters to recuperate from the injury.
As a result he was out of the top 10 for the first time in 18 years and 912 consecutive weeks ending the longest Top 10 streak in ATP ranking history. With the injury persisting Nadal also withdrew from Monte Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open and Madrid Open.
There is considerable speculation therefore whether he will recover in time to defend his crown at the French Open starting in about a month. His uncle and former coach Toni Nadal is confident that he is making good progress and will be able to play at Roland Garros but how successful he will be is a matter of conjecture after such a long absence from the circuit.
On the other hand Toni is of the view that he has taken this extended break to recover completely and he will be more than ready to make a serious bid to win the title for a record extending 15th time.
One of course cannot write off the other players who have been making waves over the last couple of years and have been good enough to make it to the top ten in the rankings. Tsitsipas and Medvedev head the list that includes the likes of Sinner, Casper Ruud, Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune and Taylor Fritz So while most interest will still centre round Alcaraz, Djokovic and perhaps Nadal there could be a few surprises as the season gathers momentum.