Before they’ll face each other in the Wimbledon final on Sunday, Djokovic was asked to size up Alcaraz — and he compared the kid to himself.
Pretty good company.
“He’s been incredibly successful in adapting to the surfaces and (to the) demands and challenges of opponents on a given day,” Djokovic said. “I see this as a great trait, as a great virtue. I see this as one of my biggest strengths throughout my career, that I was able to constantly develop, adapt and adjust my game, depending on the challenges, basically. That’s what he’s doing very early on in his career.”
And Alcaraz’s assessment of Djokovic?
“He has no weakness. He’s a really complete guy, really complete player. He’s amazing. He does nothing wrong on the court,” Alcaraz said. “Physically he’s a beast. Mentally he’s a beast. Everything is unbelievable for him.”
The matchup on Centre Court at the All England Club to close the fortnight is absolutely the one both men expected. As did pretty much everyone else.
What more could tennis fans ask for?
“He’s very motivated. He’s young. He’s hungry,” Djokovic observed. “I’m hungry, too, so let’s have a feast.”
It is a showdown pitting one of the greatest players ever — many consider him THE greatest — in Djokovic, who is 36, against a rising new star in Alcaraz, who is 20. It is the widest age gap between two men’s Grand Slam finalists since 1974, and Djokovic would become the oldest male champion at Wimbledon in the Open era.
Alcaraz is ranked No. 1, Djokovic is No. 2 (but has spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone else, man or woman).
They showed they’re a cut above the rest with straight-set victories in Thursday’s semifinals: Alcaraz never gave No. 3 Daniil Medvedev a chance while beating him 6-3, 6-3, 6-3; Djokovic had a few tough spots he had to navigate but eliminated No. 8 Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4).
Medvedev went so far as to put Alcaraz in the category of the so-called Big Three of men’s tennis: Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“He’s kind of like them,” Medvedev said.
Djokovic has won 23 Grand Slam titles, more than any man in the century-plus history of tennis, and is seeking his men’s-record-tying eighth at Wimbledon, including fifth in a row.
Alcaraz is a generational talent, the first teenager to finish a year atop the ATP rankings. He won last year’s U.S. Open and now is bidding for a second major championship.
On top of it all, this is a rematch from the French Open semifinals last month. The first two sets of that contest were deliciously entertaining, chock full of highlight-worthy shots by both.
It was tense. It was tight. It was terrific.
And then it all came apart at the seams when Alcaraz succumbed to full body cramps that he attributed, at least in part, to nerves from going up against Djokovic on that stage and with those stakes. Djokovic ran away with the victory there, taking each of the last two sets by a 6-1 score.
“We had a very good match until he started struggling physically in Paris,” Djokovic said. “We really took the level of tennis very high. I think it was great for the audience and great for us players to be part of that.”
Not surprisingly, Alcaraz wants another shot at Djokovic.
Been talking about it over the past fortnight.
“Gives you extra motivation. It’s more special to play a final against a legend from our sport,” Alcaraz said. “Well, if I win, it could be amazing for me — not only to win a Wimbledon title, but do it against Novak, would be super special.”
Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich