Alcaraz returns at China Open: Can Spaniard take advantage of Djokovic absence as battle for Year-End No. 1 intensifies?
While Alcaraz will be aiming for a perfect start to his Asia tour with a maiden title haul in China Open, there are bigger things at stake for the 20-year-old.
Carlos Alcaraz is back on the ATP tour for the first time since he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open 2023 semi-final. The world No. 2 thereafter opted out of Spain's Davis Cup campaign, but on Friday, the Spaniard will mark the beginning of his maiden Asia campaign of his career when he takes on qualifier Yannick Hanfmann in Beijing in 2023 China Open. But while Alcaraz will be aiming for a perfect start to his Asia tour with a maiden title haul in China Open, there are bigger things at stake for the 20-year-old.
Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1, will not be part of both the tournaments in China this time. While he was not in the entry list for China Open, earlier this month, he had taken on social media to announce his withdrawal from ATP 1000 Shanghai Masters as well as the newly-crowned US Open champion has taken a break from the sport. With Djokovic absent from both the events, Alcaraz arrives in Beijing with an "extra motivation" to reclaim his world No. 1 title and successfully chase a second consecutive ATP Year-End No. 1 title.
Can Alcaraz stamp his dominance on the tour again?
The last time Alcaraz was on court, he was aiming for a third Grand Slam title and match Roger Federer in becoming the first men's tennis player in over a decade to successfully defend the US Open crown. And while he was the favourite against Medvedev, whom he had defeated in the semis of Wimbledon en route to a stellar title haul, the Russian avenged in loss with a masterclass of a show on Arthur Ashe and giving Alcaraz a reality check.
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The loss led Alcaraz accepting that he still ain't mature enough to turn things around in a match in crunch situations. He had said: “I thought that right now I am a better player to find solutions when the match is not going in the right direction for you. But after this match I’m going to change my mind: I'm not mature enough to handle these kind of matches. So I have to learn about it.”
Alcaraz later opted out of Davis Cup as he wanted to "recharge his batteries" for the final stretch of the calendar year which includes two big Masters 1000 events in Shanghai and Paris-Bercy before the proceedings head to the ATP Finals.
The 2023 China Open will surely reflect how the break has worked for the Spaniard, not just physically, but also mentally. He has been handed a tricky draw in Beijing. Placed in the top half of the draw as the No. 1 seed, Alcaraz is seeded to face Karen Khachanov in his second round, Casper Ruud in the quarters and one between Holger Rune and Jannik Sinner in the semis. Medvedev, seeded second, is placed in the bottom half, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev.
How can Alcaraz take advantage of Djokovic's absence in battle for Year-End No. 1?
After having claimed his third Grand Slam title of the year in New York, adding to his wins in Australian Open and Roland Garros, Djokovic stand atop in the ATP Live Race to Turin with 8945 points. Alcaraz, who picked up six titles in 2023 including the Wimbledon trophy, stands 700 points behind in the second spot.
A title win in China Open may not see the Spaniard reclaim the top spot but will definitely cut the gap to 315 points before he heads to Shanghai Masters where the possibility does present Alcaraz to pip Djokovic. The 20-year-old is aiming to for a second consecutive ATP Year-End No. 1 title.
“As I said a few times, we have a really beautiful battle for the No. 1 spot after the great performance Djokovic had in the American season,” Alcaraz said in the pre-tournament presser. “He's the No. 1 right now. I'm coming here with extra motivation to try to recover it in the Race, of course, in the ranking. As I said, it's something that I have in my mind every time that I practise, in every tournament.
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“It's not obligatory for me to recover that, but of course you have to put the goals in the year. So for me No. 1 spot is one of the main goals for me. In these great tournaments, I'm looking to do great to be able to be close or recover that number.”
Djokovic (11545) also stand 3260 points ahead of Alcaraz in the ATP rankings chart. However, Alcaraz will be the more active player of the two in the final stretch of 2023 with participations in Beijing, Shanghai, Paris and ATP Finals, with fewer points to defend. He will have 1500 points to gain from the Asia tour and look to defend only 180 points in Paris Masters while he did not play in the ATP Finals last year.
Djokovic, on the other hand, will be dropping 750 points having opted out of Tel Aviv Open and Astana event. He is also not part of both China Open and Shanghai Masters. And, will be defending 2100 points across Paris and Tour Finals.
There remains a perfect chance for Alcaraz to reclaim the top ranking spot before 2023 ends and it could begin with two perfect weeks in Beijing and Shanghai.