How Alcaraz, Nadal, Djokovic rivalry has been put on ice before French Open
There’s been a lot of tennis played already this year. For most of the 117 days of 2023 there has been tennis played somewhere.
But for none of those 117 days have Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal all been playing in the same tournament. And only three of those 117 days have featured two of Djokovic, Alcaraz and Nadal playing at the same event.
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This time last year in Madrid it looked like the foundations for future rivalries were being laid as Alcaraz underlined his status as a star of the game by beating Djokovic and Nadal on his way to winning the title.
More showdowns have been eagerly anticipated over the last 12 months, but haven’t happened.
Since the 2022 Madrid Open, the only non-Grand Slam event that has featured Djokovic, Alcaraz and Nadal in the same draw has been the Paris Masters last November. And that didn’t last long as Nadal was beaten in his first match by Tommy Paul, before hopes of a Alcaraz v Djokovic clash were ended when the former retired with injury in the quarter-finals.
At Grand Slams the trio have largely been kept apart too. All three played the 2022 French Open – where Djokovic and Nadal met in the quarters – and Wimbledon, but the US Open featured just Nadal and Alcaraz, and the 2023 Australian Open was without Alcaraz.
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It is remarkable that the only head-to-head meeting between the trio in the last 12 months was Nadal beating Djokovic in four sets in the French Open quarter-finals.
Various circumstances have kept them apart:
- Djokovic missing the 2022 US hard-court summer due to his vaccination status preventing him from travelling to North America
- Nadal missing most of the last three months of the 2022 season, and all of this season so far after the Australian Open
- Alcaraz missing the Nitto ATP Finals and Australian Open due to injury
In 2023, the only tournament that has so far featured two of the three has been the Australian Open, and that lasted just three days as Nadal was beaten in the second round, leaving Djokovic as the only one of the trio in the draw.
Djokovic and Alcaraz could have met for the second time last autumn but Alcaraz lost early in Astana, where Djokovic would go on to win the title. On clay this season there has been no chance for a meeting so far, with Nadal still out due to injury, and Alcaraz missing Monte Carlo and then playing in Barcelona while Djokovic was in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
This week in Madrid it will be more of the same with Alcaraz present and Djokovic and Nadal absent.
Alcaraz will be defending champion and won’t be able to overtake Djokovic as world No. 1 even if he wins the title. If he does so, though, he would be just five points behind Djokovic heading into the Italian Open and would be guaranteed to return to No. 1 after the tournament if he plays there, having missed it last year.
It is hoped that Alcaraz, Nadal and Djokovic will all be fit to play the French Open, which starts on May 28.
Nadal’s fitness looks key to the trio reuniting.
“Rafael is recovering, I think he is not long before he can compete again, but in this tournament (the Madrid Open) he could not be here.
“This is one of the tournaments that he is the most excited to play but we will have to wait for another year. Obviously he is not going to arrive at Roland-Garros with good preparation, we do not have to fool ourselves.”
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