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Alcaraz, Djokovic line up all-star Cincinnati final

By AFP - Aug 20,2023 - Last updated at Aug 20,2023

CINCINNATI — Carlos Alcaraz saved a match point on the way to a three-set victory over Hubert Hurkacz on Saturday as he lined up title clash with Novak Djokovic at the ATP Cincinnati Masters.

World No. 1 Alcaraz held on for a 2-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 victory over Hurkacz, rallying to beat the big-serving Pole for the second time in as many weeks.

World No. 2 Djokovic beat Germany’s Alexander Zverev 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 to reach the final, which will be a repeat of last month’s epic Wimbledon final won by Alcaraz.

Alcaraz has won two of three career meetings with Djokovic, but the Serb was looking forward to their first hard court clash.

“It’s the ultimate challenge at the moment for me,” Djokovic said, noting he’d beaten Alcaraz on clay at the US Open this year before falling in five sets on grass at Wimbledon.

“Now it’s going to be the first encounter on a hard court. It’s a very good test prior to the US Open,” Djokovic said. “Obviously different conditions. 

“It’s still facing the top player of the world now who is in form. It’s the biggest challenge I could get, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Djokovic was trying for a second time to serve out the match against Zverev when he was distracted by a nearby amusement park’s fireworks display, but managed to regain his focus and finish it off.

He’d dropped his serve two games earlier, only to come back with a break of his own.

“I played a very poor game, but I bounced back and sealed the deal in the 12th game of the second set,” Djokovic said. “I could have done some things better, but I’m pretty happy about winning in straight sets.”

Alcaraz’s victory, after two hours and 18 minutes over Hurkacz, ensures the 20-year-old will remain atop the world rankings heading into the US Open, which starts a week from Monday.

He notched his 53rd match win of the season against five defeats, but it was another hard slog for the Spaniard.

“It’s been a really tough tournament for me, all my matches going three sets,” Alcaraz said. “But I’m happy to win these kind of matches by staying strong mentally.

“I’ve grown up a lot with these experiences. It’s great to be in the final,” he added.

After dropping the first set, Alcaraz was on the brink in the 10th game of the second, but Hurkacz fired wide on a match point and they went to a tiebreaker.

Hurkacz took a 4-1 lead in the decider, but Alcaraz stormed back to square the match, converting the first of two set points.

In the third, an Alcaraz break for 3-1 proved to be decisive and the youngster advanced on a drop volley winner.

“It was a mental battle, I had to stay present and positive all the time,” he said. “I knew I would have chances, I just had to take them. I’m happy I was able to win it.”

Alcaraz will aim for his third Masters trophy of the season after Indian Wells and Madrid.

Cincinnati will be his eighth final of 2023. He is the youngest Cincy finalist since a 19-year-old Pete Sampras in 1991.

Djokovic, 36, could become the oldest Cincinnati champion in the Open Era, surpassing Ken Rosewall who was 35 when he won in 1970.

The Serb, winner of the Australian and French Opens this year, is playing in the United States for the first time in two years. He’d been denied entry to the US after declining to be vaccinated for COVID.

On Sunday he’ll be gunning for a third Cincinnati title to go with those he won in 2018 and 2020, and seeking a record-extending 39th Masters 1000 crown.


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