US Open

Djokovic On Alcaraz: ‘He’s Always Pushing Me To The Limit’

Serbian is fresh off a memorable title victory in Cincinnati
August 25, 2023
Novak Djokovic is ready to pursue his fourth US Open title.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic is ready to pursue his fourth US Open title. By ATP Staff

Novak Djokovic explained on Friday before beginning his chase for a fourth US Open title that World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz is bringing the best out of him.

The pair clashed on Sunday in the Western & Southern Open final and the Serbian needed three hours and 49 minutes to emerge with his record-extending 39th ATP Masters 1000 trophy.

“He's always pushing me to the limit. I think I do to him pretty much the same thing. That's why we produced memorable final. It was one of the best, most exciting, and most difficult finals I was ever part of in best-of-three, no doubt, throughout my career,” Djokovic said. “That's why I fell on the ground after I won the match because it felt like winning a Grand Slam, to be honest. The amount of exchanges and rallies. It was physically so demanding and grueling that I felt very exhausted for the next few days.”

Late in the first set and early in the second set of the epic Cincinnati final, Djokovic appeared to be struggling physically. But the 36-year-old embraced the battle, saved a championship point in the second-set tie-break and found his best tennis from there.

“I love competition. I think the more you find yourself in those particular circumstances where you're experiencing adversity on the court, where things are not maybe moving the right way for you in terms of the performance of that day, in terms of tennis, or mentally you're not feeling your best, that's normally the best possible opportunity for you to grow mentally from that, to learn something,” Djokovic said. “Normally in the face of adversity is where you learn the most.”

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Now Djokovic is back in New York for the first time since 2021. That year, he won the first three majors of the season, but fell one match short of becoming the first man to win all four majors in a year since Rod Laver in 1969.

“The first feeling that I have is excitement to come back because it is the biggest arena we have in our sport, the biggest stadium, and definitely the most fun, electric, exciting atmosphere out there in tennis, playing night session in Arthur Ashe, no doubt,” Djokovic said. “I'm very excited that I'll be able to play the opening night on Monday. Come back in front of probably the loudest fans in sport, tennis fans in sport.

“I’m just very, very [much] looking forward to that. It's been two years when I played last here and lost finals to Medvedev in '21, going for four Slams in a year. I haven't performed well that day in terms of tennis. But what I felt from the crowd, that kind of connection and love and support that they gave me throughout entire match and also in the closing ceremony, was something that I carry still in my heart, and I still feel vibes from that night of the finals two years ago.”

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The last major Djokovic played, he suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final. He is keen to bounce back and claim a record-extending 24th Slam crown.

“Grand Slams are the biggest goals that I have in my career at the moment. I always speak about that, that I aim to peak and perform my best in Grand Slams,” Djokovic said. “I don't know how many more Slams I'll have. I'll still keep going. I don't have an end in my mind at the moment. I also understand that things are different when you're 36, so I have to be more appreciative, a bit more I guess present, treating every Grand Slam as maybe your last one in terms of commitment and performance.

“I see every Grand Slam that I play right now as really a golden opportunity to make more history. Of course, there's a big significance to that.”

Djokovic is the second seed in New York, where all eyes will be on him as he continues to chase history. Although he rarely shows it, the 95-time tour-level titlist admitted he gets “nervous as anybody else really”.

“People think that I don't have any stress or tension. Actually in contrary, I have quite a lot of that. I have to deal with it, manage it,” Djokovic said. “Everyone has their own way of managing the emotions and trying to be in optimal balance emotionally, mentally, and physically in order to perform their best.”

Djokovic will need to reach the final to have a chance to play Alcaraz again this fortnight. Is the Serbian thinking ahead to that potential matchup?

“Carlos is No. 1 in the world. He's definitely one of the best players in the world the last couple years. Sure, there's always an eye that follows him from my team, from any other team. I know that the same goes for me probably. We follow each other,” Djokovic said. “I'm sure his team watches my matches. My team watches his matches. It's no secret. But seriously working on a practice court on something that is related to Alcaraz, it only happens if I get to play him.”

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