Novak Djokovic arrives at the US Open next week intent on defeating not only history, but also the defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, the top seed.
Tennis icons John McEnroe and Chris Evert seem to be picking him to do both.
After a five-set loss to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic got a share of revenge on Sunday in a classic victory at the Western & Southern Open.
They arrive at Flushing Meadows as the first two seeds, meaning any encounter would be in the final.
If the 36-year-old Djokovic wins, it would be his 24th major title, which would tie Margaret Court’s all-time record.
“I would say Novak is in an incredible situation,” McEnroe said on an ESPN call previewing the US Open. “It’s a bit of apples and oranges with the men and women. It’s different – he’s looking to get rid of (Rafael) Nadal and (Roger) Federer more than he’s looking to get rid of Margaret Court. But I’m sure when people talk about it, it becomes something that you feel achievable and desirable because he wants to set records.
“But he handled it incredibly well. The fact that he overtook Nadal and Federer is unbelievable, and the way he looks, it looks like he’s going to win several more Grand Slams. We have the impression that he could continue another two, three, four years at this rate. It’s remarkable what we’re watching, and he and Alcaraz are definitely the two guys coming in and you think the odds are pretty good that one of those two wins.
It appears to be. The best rivalry in tennis is emblematic of its changing face.
Serena Williams retired last year with 23 major titles, one shy of Court.
Djokovic is the only member of the men’s Big 3 currently playing – Federer retired with 20 Grand Slams and Nadal (who has 22) has been nursing hip problems since January.
Cincinnati was the third time Djokovic had faced the 20-year-old Alcaraz in his last three events.
He emptied a 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4) backhand following his Wimbledon loss, proving just because he’s venerable doesn’t mean he’s vulnerable. Not yet.
“That feeds into Novak’s strengths in his game and in his life, and that’s the mental aspect, the mental toughness,” Evert said. “The fact that he can overcome adversity, and as you saw the Cincinnati game, I don’t know how you felt, but I thought he was out of the game after eight games, but he came back and he found that next level, and he found conditioning.
“If he finds himself in that situation again where he is in the final to win, I think that could be a different story. Losing Wimbledon will help him, as he learns from his mistakes. He learns from his flaws and everything he did there – which, by the way, Alcaraz just played an amazing game and had some amazing shots. It’s not that (Djokovic) did anything wrong. But he will be more ready this time, the second time.
Djokovic missed last year’s US Open due to his vaccination status.
He has won the Australian Open 10 times, compared to three victories at Flushing Meadows, with Evert and McEnroe guessing that status as the last major tournament in a long, grueling season might play a part.
“I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s just an educated guess,” McEnroe said. “I mean, three isn’t bad. And he’s been to a lot of finals, so he’s not going to lose any sleep over that. He’s won 23, so something works better than anyone.