Carlos Alcaraz banishes Novak Djokovic ‘asterisk’ snipe as he reclaims No 1 ranking

Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz had a point to make as he returned to the top of the world rankings.

The Spaniard’s crushing 6-3 6-2 victory against Daniil Medvedev in the Indian Wells final secured his return to the top of the ATP list and also reopened the debate over who is the best player in the world.

The absence of Novak Djokovic from the tournament in the Californian desert due to his Covid vaccine status left many suggesting the winner would have an asterisk against his name, yet that theory was well and truly banished in this one-sided final.

Against an in-form opponent who beat Djokovic impressively in Dubai earlier this month, Alcaraz turned on a display that suggested his position as world No 1 is justified, even if he might have to wait a few months to rubber stamp it.

Before Djokovic’s famously vocal army of social media defenders suggests such a claim cannot be justified, it should be noted that Novak’s Australian Open win in January came in a tournament lacking the presence of US Open champion Alcaraz, who missed out due to injury.

So does that mean Djokovic’s latest win at Melbourne should have an asterisk against it?

Of course not, but the exciting reality is we won’t have to wait too much longer before this tantalising question is answered.

Djokovic may well be back at the top of the ATP rankings before he hits a ball in anger again, with Alcaraz defending 1,000 points at the Miami Masters event next week.

So we will only be able to evaluate who is the best player in the game when we get the next Djokovic v Alcaraz clash, which may well be in the Monte Carlo Masters event next month.

The Spaniard won the only clash between the game’s ‘top two’ when they squared off in an epic contest on the clay in Madrid last summer and while a best-of-five set match in a Grand Slam tournament would provide the ultimate test for both players, this contest is too close to call.

On the evidence of what we saw in Melbourne at the start of 2023, Djokovic remains the unshakable force at the top of the game. 

Then you see the electrifying and dynamic tennis served up by Alcaraz in Indian Wells and it reminds the world that the next generation has a leader who is ready to take on the best.

Injuries have been Alcaraz’s biggest opponent since his US Open win last September, but this was a display of sumptuous brilliance from the 19-year-old and Medvedev simply had no answers.

He was stepping up the court to hit clean winners off Medvedev’s serves, moving the Russian around the court at will and hitting through an opponent who has been too good for the rest of the world’s players over the last few weeks.

Make no mistake, this display was a warning from Alcaraz to everyone in the locker room and while only a fool who dare to write off Djokovic, the Set had to be impressed by what he saw from his new big rival.

The balls used at Indian Wells have been criticised by most players in recent days, as they have contributed to what has been described as a slow surface to play on.

Yet Alcaraz had the firepower in his ground shots to rip his shots at a chilling pace and Medvedev was constantly seen to be puffing out his cheeks as he tried to come to terms with the barrage of bullets coming his way.

He was also left befuddled by the sensational array of drop shots slipped in by Alcaraz as he pushed his opponent back in what was a complete performance from the Murcia-born maestro.

This may have been Alcaraz’s best display yet in his already remarkable career and now the countdown is on to his first big meeting with Djokovic in 2023.

If it was a boxing contest, Novak v Carlos would be a pay-per-view event to beat them all and our sport is fortunate to have two heavyweights from contrasting eras in the sport preparing to do battle in a contest that could start a new era in tennis.

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