BIG APPLES AND ORANGES
Alcaraz and Djokovic a class above chasing pack at US Open, says Zverev
The US Open is nearing its culmination with some scintillating semifinals in both the men and women’s draws.
Carlos Alcaraz has separated himself from the chasing pack and is performing at the same level as 23-times Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, said Alexander Zverev on Wednesday after his US Open quarterfinal defeat to the Spaniard.
Zverev was once viewed as the best bet to break the “Big Three’s” stranglehold on men’s tennis. But the 26-year-old German has failed to kick on and is still seeking a first Grand Slam title.
With Roger Federer in retirement and Rafael Nadal likely to end his career after next season, Alcaraz has joined Djokovic at the top of the men’s game, and Zverev is perhaps best placed to pass judgement on the power shift, having lost to both recently.
“I played Novak in Cincinnati [last month]. I played Carlos here [in New York]. They’re very similar from the level of the game,” Zverev told reporters after defending champion Alcaraz outclassed him 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
The other guys have got to catch up. It’s as simple as that.
“There are some things Novak does better; there are some things Carlos does better. But they’re at a level of their own at the moment.”
At 36, Djokovic is playing some of his best tennis and is chasing a 24th Grand Slam title to match Margaret Court’s all-time singles record.
The duo has dominated the tour this season, with the Serb winning the Australian and French Opens, while the 20-year-old Alcaraz upstaged him at Wimbledon for his second Grand Slam crown.
“The other guys have got to catch up,” Zverev said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Zverev, who reached the semifinals at Roland Garros this year, was plagued by an ankle injury last season, but said a hamstring issue put paid to his hopes at Flushing Meadows.
“I couldn’t push off on my serve anymore. My serve speed was down a lot compared to other days,” he added.
“Against him, I needed a good serving day otherwise it would have been difficult. My biggest weapon was taken away after the first set. It’s difficult to even compete if you don’t have that.”
Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 winner, overcame brutal heat and fellow Russian Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to set up a Friday meeting with defending champion Alcaraz.
Three-time champion Djokovic and 20-year-old Ben Shelton booked their spots on Tuesday.
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Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘A player is going to die’, says Medvedev after U.S. Open win in brutal heat
A clash between the last two US Open winners Alcaraz and Medvedev is an obvious attraction. But Djokovic and Shelton is perhaps the more intriguing. The 23-time Grand Slam winner going up against the fearless Shelton, who has said his approach will be to close his eyes and swing away.
While Shelton is the last American chance in the men’s draw there is growing excitement over the possibility of an all-American women’s final after Madison Keys beat Wimbledon champion Markéta Vondroušová 6-1, 6-4 to join compatriot Coco Gauff in the last four.
Keys played in the last all-American final at Flushing Meadows in 2017, losing to Sloane Stephens. Now the only remaining obstacle between her and a return to Saturday’s championship match is second seed Aryan Sabalenka, who crushed China’s Zheng Qinwen 6-1, 6-4.
“I just love it here. I love playing here. In front of a home crowd, you can never feel like you can’t get out of any situation,” said Keys, who fended off all nine breakpoints she faced during the match.
She’ll have to dig even deeper against the efficient Sabalenka. DM