Carlos Alcaraz needs new rivals for a new era


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Carlos Alcaraz needs new rivals for a new era

PRECIOUS HARDWARE. Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates with the Wimbledon trophy after winning his final match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic.

Andrew Couldridge/REUTERS

Like the "Big Three" of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer pushed each other to greater heights, it has to be hoped that Carlos Alcaraz finds a couple of adversaries to share the load as tennis moves into a new era

LONDON, UK – Novak Djokovic was still trying to digest the loss of his Wimbledon crown to Carlos Alcaraz when one reporter asked him whether their final 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.

“I would hope so, for my sake,” the Serb said. “He’s going to be on the tour for quite some time.”

“I don’t know how long I’ll be around.”

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 their five-set duel on Sunday, July 16 (Monday, July 17, Manila time), should be savored.

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 US 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 No. 1 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 semifinal so far, losing to Djokovic in straight sets last week.

Denmark’s new world No. 4 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 US Open champion, was outclassed by Alcaraz in the Wimbledon semifinal, 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 guy 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.” – Rappler.com

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