Earlier this month, Serbian tennis extraordinaire Novak Djokovic suffered a rare loss at Wimbledon in a 5 set final against Carlos Alcaraz. Many pundits began sounding the alarm bell, heralding an end of an era and the arrival of next gen. A number of those in tennis circles even began intimating that Novak Djokovic had finally shown signs of decline and had a lost a step in his game. This is all despite the fact that losing grand slam finals to players outside of the big 3 has been a far more common theme for Novak (even during his prime) than most are letting on.
Nonetheless, the final hour in of one of the greatest rivalries in sport is upon us. Nadal and Djokovic both know that they are far closer to the end than they are to the beginning. For Nadal fans, look at it this way: Nadal likely would have never caught Novak had he failed to win last year’s Australian Open. However, Nadal is perhaps the greatest fighter our game has seen or will ever see, and with a fighter there is always more to be written. It is never over until it is truly over.
Keeping that in mind, this year’s US Open could potentially serve as the major which splits hairs or becomes the ultimate fork in the road between these two all-time greats. Given that Djokovic is the outright favourite in Australia, a win for Djokovic at Flushing Meadows this year could well and truly be the final nail in the coffin for Nadal’s chances of ever becoming the G.O.A.T again (even if it is for only a brief moment). A Djokovic loss here, and an upset loss at the 2024 Australian Open could be the opening in the door needed for Nadal to tie for number 1 in all time majors won. This would likely be achieved at next year’s Roland Garros.
How great of a twist would that be for the final hour of the Nadal vs Djokovic rivalry? This slam race has been likely one of the most unpredictable tug-of-wars between 2 sporting champions, ever. Who could have predicted four years ago in 2019 that a global pandemic could very much define who ends up at the mountain top? Certain rules imposed during the past 4 years could have spelt the end to Novak’s chance at becoming the number 1 male tennis player of all time. The race truly came down to a needle’s edge to split Nadal and Djokovic. Fighting tooth and nail, neck and neck, is a guarantee you can absolutely expect as the curtains start to close on of the most storied rivalries in the history of sport.
For years, it was Novak chasing Nadal and Federer. The it was Novak chasing the slam race. Now that he has that, if it wasn’t for competition standing up to him, would Djokovic perhaps no longer feel motivated to compete? In the event that Novak just kept winning and winning, would he feel like he there was no longer anything left to prove? Given that Nadal has missed most of this season, if competition did not exist in the form of someone like Alcaraz, how long you think he would keep going, and for what purpose? Tennis fans yearn for an era of domination, but an era of Djokovic winning all 4 slams in 1 year- or an era of Alcaraz winning everything left, right and centre likely would not garner interest for the sport. As good as that sounds on paper, such a scenario would likely be boring and predictable, and nobody wants to know the winner of a final or match virtually before it’s started. Consequently, an era where Carlos Alcaraz had no competition would perhaps not push him to grow his game the way a competitor biting at his heels would.
So, all in all, do you believe that Novak Djokovic losing to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final is a blessing in disguise for Djokovic, tennis and Alcaraz alike?