By Nick McCarvel
Chapter IV of the Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic story will be written Sunday at the Western & Southern Open.
What plot twist will this one include?
If it’s anything like their previous three encounters, it’s set to be a page-turner, and comes five weeks to the day after their instant classic five-setter in the Wimbledon final, which was won by Alcaraz.
It’s the first world No.1 vs. No.2 men’s final in Cincinnati since 2012, when Roger Federer took out – you guessed it – Djokovic for the title.
“It’s amazing for the sport,” Djokovic told TennisTV about the final. “The No.1 and No.2 in the sport facing each other in the final of a big event. This is what everyone wanted and expected in the beginning of the tournament. So here we are.”
It also marks the first Cincinnati final to be a repeat of Wimbledon since 2015 when Djokovic defeated Federer at the All England Club then lost to the Swiss in Cincinnati.
Enter Federer again: It’s Roger who Novak ties in the tournament record books with his eighth appearance in the finale, and he is looking for a third title here as Alcaraz – in just his third appearance – is in search of his first.
Alcaraz also appears to be chasing his top level, having been tested in three sets in each of his five previous matches this tournament, including in an enthralling semifinal on Saturday against Hubert Hurkacz, in which he saved a match point in the second set.
He’s not worried about his energy levels, however.
“I feel good,” he told reporters Saturday night. “People might think that I’ll be tired in the final, but it doesn’t matter if I’m playing three-set, long matches. I’m recovering well. I feel like I’m playing the first match of the tournament.”
It is a first tournament back for Djokovic since that Wimbledon final, which, he said earlier in the week, he needed just one day to get over before spending time with family. He has looked in ominous form in Mason, including on Saturday night against 2021 champion Alexander Zverev.
If their Cincinnati final is anything like their Wimbledon one, the shot-making quality is sure to be supreme. Alcaraz will need to clean up his game from the baseline, while Djokovic will have to take the chances he said he missed in the second set at Wimbledon, when he had set points to go up two sets to love.
While Djokovic is the elder statesman, the Cincinnati crowd has been enthralled with Alcaraz this week, including on Saturday when he said they helped lift him out of that match point hole against Hurkacz to escape in three sets.
“It’s crazy the support,” a smiley Alcaraz said. “It makes me feel like I’ve been playing here for a long time. They pull me up in certain ways when I was down and in trouble; I got the win thanks to them.”
It also marks another chapter in No.1 vs. No.2 in men’s tennis: The 119th all-time meeting and third to take place in Cincinnati, it will be 37th 1 vs 2 battle the Serb has played.