Carlos Alcaraz has separated himself from the chasing pack and is performing at the same level as 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, said Alexander Zverev after his US Open quarter-final 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 now retired 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. 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.
“There are some things Novak does better; there are some things Carlos does better. I think they’re at a level of their own at the moment.
“The other guys have got to catch up. It’s as simple as that.”
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 have dominated the tour this season with the Serb winning the Australian and French Opens while Alcaraz, 20, upstaged him at Wimbledon for his second Grand Slam crown.
Zverev, who reached the semi-finals 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.”
Alcaraz will next take on 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals on Friday, while 23-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic faces unseeded Ben Shelton, a 20-year-old American who has never been this far at a major.
“I try to make the people enjoy watching tennis, watching the matches,” Alcaraz said during his on-court interview.
“The last matches I played against Daniil [Medvedev] I played a tactical game played perfectly. I did pretty well, all the things that I had to do against him, so I think my game suits pretty well against that type of opponent, you know, like Daniil.
“So, I’m going to try to do the same things that I did, for example, in Indian Wells and in Wimbledon, and hopefully to get the win and play the same level that I played in those matches.”
On a potential final vs Djokovic, Alcaraz added: “Well, obviously it’s closer than the beginning of the tournament. It’s just one match from that potential final.
“It would be great to play a final against Novak here in New York, but both of us have a really tough semi-final, so let’s see.
“But obviously both of us are looking for that potential final.”