Carlos Alcaraz has responded to Novak Djokovic after he snubbed the idea that the teenager was his new main opposition and talked up his rivalry with Rafael Nadal. The world No 1 held a press conference earlier this week in which he claimed that his fellow 22-time Grand Slam champion would always be his biggest rival and Alcaraz has now agreed with the Serb, claiming it was “normal” for Djokovic to think that.
Djokovic addressed the media at his Novak Tennis Centre on Wednesday in his first public appearance since winning a record-equalling 22nd Major at last month’s Australian Open. During the presser, world No 2 Alcaraz was brought up after his winning return from injury at last week’s Argentina Open, where he lifted the title at his first event in four months.
But the 35-year-old was quick to shut down any suggestion that Alcaraz had become his main rival over Nadal, telling reporters: “I cannot call him my main rival, my main rival is still Nadal.” And Alcaraz has now had his say, as the 19-year-old was full of understanding for Djokovic’s verdict given the history between him and Nadal.
“It’s normal for him to say that,” Alcaraz said after his 6-7(5) 6-2 6-4 win over Fabio Fognini at the Rio Open on Thursday. “In the end they have played 59 or 60 times, they have played semi-finals and finals of Grand Slam, and finals of the Masters 1000… Practically all the finals.”
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It comes as Alcaraz is hot on the heels of Djokovic in the rankings after the Serb overtook him as the world No 1 with his Aussie Open win while the 19-year-old was sidelined with an injury. But the seven-time title winner thought their ranking battle wasn’t enough to make him dethrone Nadal as the 35-year-old’s most significant opponent.
He continued: “The fact that number one is fighting with him does not mean that I am his greatest rival or his rival. In the end they (Djokovic and Nadal) have shared the circuit for 20 years and have played great games. It’s normal for him to say that.”
But the US Open champion admitted that it was an honour to fight with one of the sport’s greats for the world No 1 ranking as he offered his theory as to why Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer had been so dominant over the years. “I think it is a mental issue,” he claimed.
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“It is because they do not let their guard down at any time, tournament after tournament after tournament… I think that this is the key to the success that these great tennis players and athletes have had. And being able to approach Djokovic in this case at No 1 in the world is a privilege.”
And Alcaraz isn’t the only one sharing praise for his fellow competitors, as Djokovic was still full of kind words for the Spanish teenager despite picking Nadal as his biggest rival. “Alcaraz is playing on a great level, especially after several months of absence from the tour with injuries that he was struggling with,” the world No 1 said of Alcaraz’s ability to win his first tournament in four months.
“It’s amazing that he’s able to find the top level right away, that’s actually a characteristic of a mature player, of someone that has an experience which he doesn’t have so much experience but he is showing maturity very early on with the way he handles himself on and off the court.”
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