When Carlos Alcaraz broke onto the scene, Novak Djokovic was already one of the greatest players in history. As much as the Spaniard respects the Serbian, he has brought an element of fearlessness to his matches with the longest-reigning World No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
That has helped develop a captivating Lexus ATP Head2Head rivalry between the sport's two best players — a rivalry that blossomed in 2023 with four Lexus ATP Head2Head showdowns. ATPTour.com looks back at those memorable matches here.
2023 Roland Garros SF, Djokovic d. Alcaraz 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1
There was a lot of anticipation ahead of a blockbuster semi-final between Djokovic and Alcaraz in Paris, especially after their first meeting, won by the Spaniard just more than a year earlier.
That match more than lived up to the hype for the first two sets, with the competitors one-upping each other with shotmaking and defending of the highest quality. Both of the opening sets finished in dramatic fashion, with break points coming and going for both men down the stretch — 15 combined across the first two sets.
But after a promising start, what began as a titanic tussle fizzled out in favour of Djokovic. Alcaraz struggled with cramp, and was unable to play to his true level after the second set.
"[It was because of] the tension of the match," Alcaraz said. "I started the match really nervous. The tension of the first set, the second set, it was really an intense two sets, as well. Really good rallies, tough rallies, drop shots, sprints, rallies. It's a combination of a lot of things. But the main thing, it was the tension that I had all the two first sets."
“First and foremost I have to say tough luck for Carlos,” Djokovic said. “Obviously at this level the last thing you want is cramp and physical problems at the late stages of a Grand Slam. So I feel for him, I feel sorry. I hope he can recover and he can come back very soon."
Photo: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
2023 Wimbledon F, Alcaraz d. Djokovic 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4
The odds were stacked against the 20-year-old Alcaraz leading into the Wimbledon final. Djokovic had won seven titles at the event and carried momentum having claimed the first two major trophies of the 2023 season. Alcaraz was playing just the fourth grass-court event of his career.
There were also dents in the Spaniard's armour. On a surface he had proven himself on, clay, Alcaraz allowed his nerves to get the best of him against Djokovic at Roland Garros. Would the same thing happen on Centre Court?
After a lopsided first set, the answer was a resounding "No". Alcaraz showed not only impressive shotmaking, but a steely resolve to withstand the Serbian's relentless onslaught.
Djokovic had set point for a 2-0 lead on return at 6/5 in the second-set tie-break, and later missed a swinging volley on break point early in the fifth set. Alcaraz broke in the ensuing game and twice held serve from behind — escaping a 15/30 hole at 3-2 and 0/15 when he closed out the match — to earn his his second major triumph.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” the Spaniard said. “Of course it’s great to win, but even if I had lost, I would be really proud of myself with this amazing run. Making history in this beautiful tournament, playing a final against a legend of our sport.Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
2023 Western & Southern Open F, Djokovic d. Alcaraz 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4)
Djokovic was down and nearly out in more ways than one. After Alcaraz emerged victorious from their slugfest of a Wimbledon final, some wondered whether the final of the grass-court major was a sign of the passing of the torch.
The Serbian did nothing to quieten those comments early in the Cincinnati final. Alcaraz led by a set and a break and appeared poised for another big win against his chief rival. But the 36-year-old relied on his champion's spirit to claw his way back into the match.
Djokovic saved championship point in the second-set tie-break and battled through a tense three hours and 49 minutes to triumph in one of the best matches in recent memory. The match was the longest best-of-three final in ATP Tour history (since 1990).
“Just overall, one of the toughest and most exciting matches I was ever part of," said Djokovic, who ripped off his shirt in the celebrations. "These are the kinds of moments and matches that I continue to work for day in day out. I was never in doubt that I can deliver the 'A' game when it mattered the most and [I am] just thrilled.”
Nitto ATP Finals SF, Djokovic d. Alcaraz 6-3, 6-2
Fittingly, the two most prolific champions of the 2023 season met in the knockout rounds at the ATP Finals, where champions become champion. In their fourth meeting of the year, Djokovic scored an emphatic victory en route to his record-breaking seventh title at the season finale.
With new life in Turin after Jannik Sinner's group-stage win put him through to the semis, Djokovic brought a new mentality into the semi-final. Eager to take the initiative against Alcaraz, the Serbian's aggressive game handcuffed his opponent as he dominated the early stages of the match.
Alcaraz grew into the match in the second set and, after winning several all-action rallies with his supreme athleticism, he created a 15/40 opening for a chance to level the second set at 3-3. Instead, Djokovic buckled down and served his way out of trouble. The World No. 1 did not lose another game as he closed out the statement win.
“I approached the match with the right attitude, the right mentality, and I knew from the very first point it was going to be greatly intense," Djokovic said. "He had break points right away, 15/40 in the first game. That’s Carlos. He always brings out his best in these kinds of matches and starts with a lot of high quality tennis and intensity. You’ve got to match that, try to weather the storm, and I did that.”