Novak Djokovic faces familiar hostility as Carlos Alcaraz cements his breakthrough

Novak Djokovic and Alcaraz

He has been away from the bullring for most of 2022, but Novak Djokovic was cast in a familiar position in his epic Madrid Open semi-final against Carlos Alcaraz.

The world No 1 has got used to fighting against his opponent and the spectators around the world when he has come up against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal over the course of his career, with his annoyance at the lack of respect he has often been shown highlighted time and again in his post match comments.

Now, for the first time in 2022, a new hero was getting all the acclaim of the fans in Madrid as Alcaraz was cheered on to victory in a match that will be remembered for years to come.

As was the case when Federer beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 and when Nadal beat Federer in the same tournament in 2008, this fely like an occasion that will have huge significance for the game in the coming years.

While he is still only 19, Alcaraz is clearly ready to beat the game’s best after wins against Nadal on Friday and Djokovic 24 hours later, with the latter walking off the court at the end of the game with limited acknowledgment of a crowd that was almost universally cheering against him from first point to last.

The treatment Djokovic has had to deal with down the years has often been unjustified for a player of his stature, but this time was different and, he might agree, more about cheering on Alcaraz than it was ‘anti-Novak’ sentiment from the Spanish crowd.

They all wanted to see the new kid on the block prove his worth on the biggest stage and he did just that with a sensational 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 7-6 (7-5) success.

While Djokovic will not have been comfortable hearing his each and every miss cheered as if it was a goal scored by Real Madrid.

Yet this was not a night for Djokovic to begrudge the new kid on the block and he confirmed as much with magnanimous comments in his post-match press conference.

“Congrats to him. He held his nerve very well,” said Djokovic. “For somebody of his age to play so maturely and courageously is impressive. He deserved to win.

“His kick in altitude here is huge, and it was just difficult to deal with his ball, and I wasn’t feeling my return from that side. He was serving a lot of kick just to put himself in a good position.

“I definitely played very good tennis, I mean, the best that I have played this year. Probably when the disappointment of losing this match passes, I will have a lot of positives to take away from this week.”

Djokovic can take encouragement from improved performances in Madrid and if he plays Alcaraz again at the French Open later this month, he might fancy his chances of outlasting him over the five-set format.

Yet for now, Alcaraz is the man of the moment.