Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner face ‘almost impossible’ battle to become world No 1

Kevin Palmer
Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz chat
Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz at the net

Novak Djokovic’s reign as the king of men’s tennis may appear to be under threat from the game’s young guns, yet his position as world No 1 is likely to be strengthened in the next few months.

Djokovic’s defeat against Jannik Sinner in the Australian Open semi-finals ended the Serbian’s reign as world No 1, with the comprehensive manner of Sinner’s victory fueling a belief that we had witnessed a significant moment in tennis.

As was the case when Carlos Alcaraz beat Djokovic in last summer’s Wimbledon final, the eagerness to herald the end of the era of dominance for the 24-time Grand Slam king blues the reality that he remains the king of the game for now.

Djonokvic saw 1,200 ranking points fall off his record after he failed to defend the Australian Open title last month and that has allowed No 2 ranked player Alcaraz to move to within 600 points of the top spot.

That modest lead may appear to make Djokovic vulnerable at the top of the rankings, but the Serbian is unlikely to be knocked off the top spot any time soon for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Alcaraz has a huge number of points to defend as he enjoyed great success at this point in 2023.

The Spaniard is preparing to play clay court events in South America and he has 550 points to defend from tournaments in Buenos Aires and Rio.

He then has 1,000 points to defend from his win at Indian Wells last March and 360 points are still on his record from his run to the Miami Open semi-finals.

To conclude the Alcaraz element of this story, the Spaniard would need to win his next four tournaments to improve his ranking and have a chance to overthrow Djokovic as world No 1.

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“Of course it is a goal,” said Alcaraz, as he spoke about the race to be world No 1 last year.

“As I have said a few times, we have a really beautiful battle to be No 1 in the world, especially after the great performance that Novak had on the last American tour,” he said in September.

“Right now he is No 1, so I come here with extra motivation to try to get him back and place first in the race, as well as in the rankings.

“Like I said, it’s something that I keep in mind every time I’m training, I think about it in every tournament.

“It is not mandatory for me to recover it either, but we have to set goals for the year.

“For me, the No 1 position is one of my main objectives, so in these big tournaments I am going to go for it, to try to do well to be close and recover it.”

It is a similar story for world No 3 Medvedev, who is currently 1,090 points behind Djokovic in the rankings, but he also has a lot of points to defend in the next few weeks.

He won tournaments in Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai in February 2023, before reaching the final at Indian Wells and winning the Miami Open.

That winning run means Medvedev would also need a clear sweep of tournament wins in the next few weeks to improve his current ranking.

Sinner is also unlikely to make a rankings leap as he has big rankings points to defend from a run to the tournament in Rotterdam, while he reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells and the final in Miami.

The wild card in this battle for the world No 1 ranking is, as it has been for many a year, the great Djokovic.

He did not play in Indian Wells and Miami last year as he was banned from entering the USA due to his Covid vaccine status and it means he has 2,000 fresh rankings points to chase over the next few weeks.

So prior to European clay court season starting in April, Djokovic’s position as world No 1 appears to be untouchable and there is a very good chance he will strengthen his position as world No 1.