It could have been Carlos Alcaraz’s summer, but it was Novak Djokovic’s season. And the one that separated the Serbian from the rest of the rivals who seek to be the best ever. The victory in New York this Sunday, the 24th major, against the tireless, cunning and Russian Daniil Medvedev, confirmed Djokovic’s excellent year and that, today, only ‘Nole’ can claim that position.
Before the year began, the ‘Big Three’ had already become the ‘Big Two’. Federer, who when he reached the Big 20 in 2018 it was thought that no one would ever surpass him, announced his retirement in September last year. Nadal, who in the previous season had amazingly managed to raise his account up to 22 –Australia and Roland Garros– fell into a hell of injuries that have left him blank this year. Next year, the Mallorcan will seek to return to the big stages of tennis. But, close to turning 38 and with a worn-out body, it will be miraculous – something that can never be ruled out – if he recovers his best level.
Djokovic and Nadal have managed to take advantage of the fact that the so-called ‘Next Gen’, the generation of young people – not so much anymore – promises like Zverev, Tsitsipas or Rublev have not come true. The only exception is his own Medvedevwho has managed to win a ‘big one’ – in New York, against Djokovic, 2021 – and has reached other finals.
The brake could be the last batch of very young tennis players. The Italian Sinner and the Polish Rune have appeared very strongly. But, among them, only Alcaraz has been a true rival.
The Murcian, who won his first major here last year, has started a generational grief with Djokovic that could have been a turning point this season. But the Serbian, at 36 years old, refuses to give up the baton.
Alcaraz beat him in an epic final at Wimbledon in July, where some saw the relay. Djokovic rebelled. In Cincinnati, the Masters 1000 prior to the USA Open, he returned the coin in a final even better than the one in London. And Alcaraz could not take revenge in Flushing Meadows: Medvedev, in the semifinals, turned into a fronton, disrupted his aggressive game and avoided the dream final.
Alcaraz was absent from Australia due to injury – Djokovic won there – and fell with the Serbian in the semi-finals of Roland Garros – with cramps due to the tension of the moment – and that also undermined a season that, nevertheless, has been brilliant for a boy 20 years old: four grand, a titletwo semi-finals and one absence.
The problem is that, as he has suffered on his own skin, beating Nole on a court, especially in five sets, is a herculean work. Devotedly dedicated to his preparation, his physical ability has hardly diminished, and his knowledge of tennis does not stop growing. The Serbian analyzes his opponent like a chess game, adapts to his weaknesses, modifies the strategy and uses psychology – escapes to the locker room, tantrums, falls and theatrical injuries – when the match gets ugly.
Djokovic’s dominance is astonishing for his age. Medvedev tried to wear him down with endless rallies, but the Serbian was a wall. The one who ended up knocked down, literally, was the Russian. He ran to Djokovic’s drop shot, tripped, and ended up lying on the cement. The Serbian was left standing, in the net, huge above him, both smiling. It was the tennis parody, as Jason Gay rightly perceived in ‘The Wall Street Journal’, of the iconic photo of Ali and Sonny Liston.
«What are you still doing here? Come on!” Medvedev joked at the awards ceremony. It is impossible to know how much longer the Serbian can last at this level. At the moment, he has no cracks. He has said that as long as the young people don’t get into his beard, he will continue to be here. Ivanisevic, his coach, assured after the victory that his plans include competing in the 2028 Los Angeles Games. He will then be 41 years old. Nole remains for a while.
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