US Open 2023: Coco Gauff the great hope as Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic renew rivalry in New York

US Open 2023: Coco Gauff the great hope as Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic renew rivalry in New York

The US Open begins on Monday with a nation hoping that Coco Gauff might win her first Grand Slam title and light up women’s tennis in the United States.

But when it comes to the men’s event, for all the potential storylines, there is one main question. Will Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic get through their respective sides of the draw to set up another mouthwatering contest?

The two men might be at either end of their careers – at 36, Djokovic is giving Alcaraz 16 years – but between them, they have dominated the big events this year, with Djokovic winning the Australian Open and French Open, while Alcaraz clinched his first Wimbledon title.

The manner and sheer brilliance of their contests has had everyone on the edge of their seats but it’s not just the quality of their tennis, it’s the fact that every time they meet, the matches hold real significance.

At Wimbledon, Alcaraz denied Djokovic what would have been the third leg of the coveted Grand Slam, all four majors in one calendar year, something no man has achieved since Rod Laver did it for a second time in 1969.

That could have signalled a changing of the guard, but Djokovic showed his resilience by beating the Spaniard in the Cincinnati final just over a week ago, defying wilting heat in three hours, 49 minutes of brutality.

Djokovic is going for his 24th Grand Slam title, which would equal the all-time record held by the Australian, Margaret Court, while Alcaraz is trying to defend the title he won 12 months ago and pick up slam title No 3.

For all the threat posed by the likes of the 2021 champion, Daniil Medvedev, the young upstarts, Italian Jannik Sinner and Dane Holger Rune, and the main American hopes, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, it would be a surprise if those two don’t make it through to the final.

There is also something of a mutual appreciation society going on, it seems. “He’s always pushing me to the limit. I think I do to him pretty much the same thing,” Djokovic said. Alcaraz described Djokovic as “one of the greatest of all time from our sport. No doubts about it. Everything he does in the game is unbelievable.”

Back at the US Open after missing last year’s event due to the Covid travel ban on unvaccinated non-citizens, Djokovic has a point to prove but Alcaraz has the kind of temperament that suggests he won’t be ruffled by anything or anyone.

Djokovic beat Alcaraz in Cincinnati to enact some revenge from the Wimbledon final (Getty Images)
Djokovic beat Alcaraz in Cincinnati to enact some revenge from the Wimbledon final (Getty Images)

“It’s his maturity, you forget how young he is,” Britain’s Dan Evans said here. “His inner circle seems to be good and he really listens. I think you can hear that now when (Juan Carlos) Ferrero talks on the court. You can hear it on the microphones. He really takes it in, it’s impressive.”

All four British men, Andy Murray, Cam Norrie, Evans and Jack Draper, begin their campaigns on Tuesday. Draper confirmed his fitness on Sunday after recent shoulder trouble while Murray is also fully fit after a recent minor abdominal injury.

Eleven years on from his victory here, when he won his first slam title, Murray is hoping for a big run, though his draw is far from easy. The 36-year-old opens against Frenchman Corentin Moutet, but then could play Grigor Dimitrov and if gets past the Bulgarian, he could face the German, Alexander Zverev.

Three British women are in the main draw, Katie Boulter and Jodie Burrage by ranking while Lily Miyazaki won through qualifying. Miyazaki plays Monday while Boulter and Burrage begin on Tuesday.

Iga Swiatek is the favourite to defend her title and win her fifth Grand Slam in all, but there are threats all around, notably from Aryna Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, and last year’s Wimbledon winner, Elena Rybakina.

But it is Gauff who will have the crowd on her side and all eyes upon her. The 19-year-old beat Swiatek on the way to the title in Cincinnati just over a week ago and with Brad Gilbert, the former coach of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, in her camp, she has US Open-winning expertise on her side.