Mats Wilander explains why Novak Djokovic ‘welcomes’ Carlos Alcaraz rivalry

Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic after a match Credit: Alamy
Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic after a match Credit: Alamy

Tennis legend Mats Wilander has revealed he thinks Novak Djokovic welcomes his developing rivalry with Carlos Alcaraz because it makes him a “much better player.”

The seven-time Grand Slam champion was also surprised by the “professionalism” of both Djokovic and Alcaraz during the pair’s Cincinnati final thriller.

Djokovic edged Alcaraz 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4) in a breathtaking title match at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati last week.

It was the latest instalment in a fascinating rivalry now locked at 2-2 – with all four clashes between the pair featuring superb tennis.

Alcaraz is the top seed and defending champion at the 2023 US Open, while three-time winner Djokovic is seeded second. The duo could, therefore, face off in another final following their recent Cincinnati and Wimbledon epics.

In an interview with Eurosport, Wilander assessed why he thinks Djokovic will be relishing the competition with Alcaraz.

“After all these years, knowing how Novak’s vision and ambition is for his legacy in our sport, I would think that he welcomes it (the rivalry), because it makes him a much better player,” explained the Swede.

“And I think when he realises that this is the level I have to play to beat this guy, I think it’s gonna help him when he plays against the other guys.”

The former world No 1 also expressed that he did not expect Djokovic and Alcaraz to fight so hard in their Cincinnati battle and feels it sets up the US Open perfectly.

“I’m surprised, I have to say, even though we saw an incredible match in the Wimbledon final. I was a bit worried that this might be a let-down, that one of the guys – most probably Novak in this situation – maybe wouldn’t want to go the whole distance,” admitted Wilander.

“Maybe [he] didn’t want to come back after losing the first set because you would think that the scar tissue of losing a match like that when you’re trying your very, very, very best is gonna stay with you if they play at the US Open.

“But obviously they both surprised me in that sense with their professionalism. I cannot believe that Novak Djokovic was able to – was willing to bounce back after that losing first set and then winning two tiebreakers – I mean that’s crazy.

“Okay, maybe the match was so good and so close that both of them was like, ‘You know what, this is like with the Wimbledon final. This is too much fun, it’s too close. I know I can beat this guy on any day. I can also lose to him on any day.’ And that’s the way it seems.

“The spirit of the match was that, which for the rest of us is so welcoming before we are heading into the US Open, because now there is a dream final again, which is exactly what we got at Wimbledon.”

The 2023 US Open begins on Monday August 28.

READ MORE: Novak Djokovic reveals Carlos Alcaraz Cincinnati triumph ‘felt like winning a Grand Slam’

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