Will ‘the new Novak Djokovic’ end Carlos Alcaraz’s Australian Open dream?

Kevin Palmer
Miomir Kecmanovic is a real threat to the game's big-hitters
Miomir Kecmanovic is a real threat to the game's big-hitters

Carlos Alcaraz may be eyeing up an Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic in Melbourne, but his dream could be scuppered by another Serbian player long before that potential showdown.

Alcaraz reached the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time after opponent Shang Juncheng retired with an injury in the third set.

Remarkably, this was 20-year-old Alcaraz’s first experience of playing a younger player in his 201st tour level match, but it was barely a contest, the second seed dropping just two games before Shang called it a day trailing 6-1 6-1 1-0.

The 18-year-old Chinese wild card began the match with heavy strapping on his right thigh and took a medical timeout in the second set.

Alcaraz was forced to miss the tournament last year with a leg injury and he said: “I was watching the matches at home from the couch, wishing to play in the second week here. It feels special.”

The young Spaniard will expect to go further than just the fourth round, where he will play Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic.

That clash offers up the intriguing prospect of Djokovic’s young compatriot clearing his biggest rival out of the way as the 10-time Australian Open champion looks to win his 25th Grand Slam title.

A few eyebrows were raised when Serbia captain Victor Troicki named Miomir Kecmanovic as his first singles performer for the Davis Cup Finals tie against Great Britain’s Jack Draper last November, yet the 22-year-old justified his selection in a grand manner with a 7-6(2) 7-6(5) win.

He backed that up with a thrilling performance to beat Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in the opening match of the semi-final against Italy and, while he could not save the tie for his nation as he teamed up with Djokovic in the doubles, he left the Davis Cup Finals with his reputation hugely enhanced.

READ MORE: Novak Djokovic’s stunningly brilliant and ominous statistics in the second week of Grand Slams

Born in Belgrade in August 1999, Kecmanovic was inspired by Djokovic as he burst through the ranks in Serbian tennis.

His name was planted into the headlines as he was due to play Djokovic in the 2022 Australian Open first round, with his opponent changed after his compatriot was deported from Melbourne due to his Covid vaccine status.

Kecmanovic made the most of that fortunate break to reach the last-16 at the Australian Open, which is his best run at a Grand Slam.

He was also a quarter-finalist at the Miami Open Masters 1000 event in 2022, and beat Holger Rune in a tournament in Stockholm earlier this year.

The Serbian also made it through to the final in Estoril back in April, losing against Casper Ruud in the decisive match.

Kecmanovic saved two match points to beat Tommy Paul and set-up a last-16 clash with Alcaraz and it is clear that he has taken inspiration from Djokovic.

“Nothing can get to Novak and the way he prepares for matches is just on another level,” said Kecmanovic.

“I just love the way he competes on the court and fights through everything, it’s really inspirational.

Physically, I admire that he can get to any ball and it doesn’t matter where he is, that thing is going to go in no matter what and then mentally, he’s just so much stronger than everybody,”

Djokovic is impressed by the progress of Kecmanovic, as he offered up this verdict: “The progress Kecmanovic has made in his game is obvious. In the first place, his progress refers to how he moves on the court,” assessed the world No 1.

“His strokes have always been good but he lacked movements, frontside running, backwards running, transitions from defence to offense. I believe he has made substantial progress there. I’ve seen that his game has become much more aggressive.

“Kecmanovic has spent a lot of time in the US and he grew up as a tennis player at a hard court. He is an all-around player and he can adjust to different surfaces.”

As he looked forward to his clash with Alcaraz, Kecmanovic suggested he faces one of the biggest tests in tennis.

“It’s definitely not going to be easy. He’s been playing amazing,” said the world No 60.

“We played two years ago, but after that he has done so much, so it’s definitely going to be tough. Hopefully I can play my best tennis and then let’s see what happens.

“I think he’s very aggressive, and that’s what wins him I think the most points. When it’s tough moments, when it’s close, he always goes for it. So that’s something to watch out.

“I’m definitely going to play freely next. I’m going to go for it.”

If Kecmanovic plays with the level of intensity and accuracy he display at the Davis Cup Finals in November, he will be a threat to Alcaraz in what may be the one of most compelling of the fourth round matches at the Australian Open.