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Novak Djokovic is the ‘ultimate fighter,’ wins in Cincinnati

By Sigurd Neubauer


Novak Djokovic, 36, can never be counted out. He may be down – as he was after the first set during the final of the Western & Southern Open – against Carlos Alcaraz, 20, but rose like a Phoenix in what was nothing short of a nail biter of a match that pitted the two highest ranked male players in the world against each other.

This was the match that we all wanted to see. 

It was, of course, the third time that the two – Alcaraz ranked as No. 1 and Djokovic as No.2 – met this year. During the French Open semifinal, Djokovic defeated Alcaraz 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, but during the Wimbledon final, the Spaniard won 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in what was – up until that point – a grueling match that lasted hours and 42 minutes.

Sunday’s final in Cincinnati has redefined what grueling means.

Djokovic defeated Alcaraz during unprecedented weather conditions. Photo credit: Western & Southern Open/Jared Wickerham

While Djokovic is a 'superman,' he’s not immortal and will eventually be slowing down. My advice is to enjoy it for as long as it last

It lasted 3 hours 49 minutes and was played during scorching heath, hovering near 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).  Djokovic had to take a medical emergency early on due to the weather conditions. 

In the end, the Serb won the tiebreak in both the second and third sets. But the final results were: 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4).

Commenting on what this great rivalry means for the two going forward, President Vesa Ponkka of the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) says that the two players are moving in different directions.

“The Serb will make it difficult for all young players, but the upcoming US Open will provide clues for what’s next between the two of them. If they meet in New York again, then one can start to talk about whether there is something special.”

It all depends, the JTCC President explains, on whether Djokovic is able to stay healthy and hungry over the next 18 months.  At any rate, he stresses that however exciting the Djokovic-Alcaraz dynamic has become, it won’t be a long-lasting. 

“While Djokovic is a ‘superman,’ he’s not immortal and will eventually be slowing down. My advice is to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.”

The mental game, great respect

For Ponkka, who is also one of America’s preeminent tennis coaches, what made the match truly special was the mental side of it “as one simply couldn’t take eyes off it. The intensity was there, one could simply feel it.”

The two players demonstrated total respect for each other even if the serves were not perfect. Ponkka is referring to the fact that both players double faulted. “It was a pleasure to watch the match in so many different ways,” he adds.

The match was also a teachable moment, especially for the younger generation of tennis players and aspiring professionals.

“I hope that all the young players watch and learn from them. A lot of the young players nowadays only watch the highlights and not the match in its entirety. One has to watch the entire match to feel and sense how the momentum between the two was constantly shifting; there is so much to learn from the match.”

While there were no major surprises at the Western & Southern Open, the JTCC President would have liked to see U.S. players Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz do better.  Tiafoe is a JTCC graduate and ranked as No. 10 and Fritz as No. 9. 

Alcaraz's serves were not the best: Ponkka. Photo credit: Western & Southern Open/Jared Wickerham

Vesa Ponkka is one of America’s preeminent tennis coaches. Photo credit: Courtesy 

US Open

The high drama playing out in Cincinnati, Ohio, is bound to keep the wonderful world of tennis abuzz, especially heading into the US Open. “The tournament organizers in New York are surely happy about the excitement over how the final in Cincinnati unfolded as it serves as a great promotional event for them as people will continue to talk about it.”

Alcaraz will be battle ready for New York; he played three sets in every single match. His mentality and emotional stability are at the highest level at the moment,  Ponkka explains. The same goes for Djokovic as the two of them – along with Jannik Sinner who won the recent Canadian Open – are the three big favorites to win in New York. 

Djokovic will participate in the US Open after the U.S. government lifted pandemic era restrictions barring unvaccinated foreigners from participating.

Gauff secured her second title in weeks. Photo credit: Western & Southern Open/Jared Wickerham


Coco Gauff defeated Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-4 in the final in a match whose outcome was never in doubt. It was her second hard-court title of the summer after having won the Mubadala Citi DC Open. Gauff is ranked as No. 7 whereas Muchova as No. 17. 

During her trophy ceremony in Cincinnati, Gauf credited her Christian faith in a heartfelt tribute while also thanking her father and family. To wild cheers, Gauff said: {This is unbelievable. . I’d like to thank my lord & savior Jesus Christ. I spent a lot of nights alone crying trying to figure it out. I still have a lot to figure out, but I thank him for covering me.”

With the ultimate goal of becoming the No. 1 in the world, Gauff is contemplating hiring Brad Gilbert as her coach, Ponkka reveals. “Brad has coached some of the very best players in the world, including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, and Andy Murray, who have all won Grand Slams. He has an outstanding track record of taking the best players in the world to the next level.”

Adds Ponkka, “It is clear that Brad is making a difference with Coco as she is now emerging to be a huge favorite to win at the US Open. Brad can help her with handling the pressure as he’s previously taken several players to the very top.”

Although the JTCC President prefaces that he doesn’t have any insider knowledge where things stand in contract negotiations between Gauff and Gilbert, he underscores that he would be really surprised if they don’t work it out. “Brad would help Gauff win Grand Slam titles sooner or later. I would be very surprised if the two of them won’t reach a long-term partnership. This would be a great investment for Coco.”

In Cincinnati, Gauff defeated Iga Swiatek 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4. Prior to their recent meeting, the No. 1 in the world had defeated Gauff during their seven previous matches.

Swiatek is also the winner of three of the last six Grand Slam titles.

On what this means for the Polish woman going forward, Ponkka points out that she knows how to win even if she didn’t play at her best in Cincinnati. 

“New York will be a tough place for Europeans as the crowds are expected to be turning more pro-American. I am very excited about the potential rematch between Gauff and Swiatek,” he says.

Elena Rybakina also remains a favorite as 2023 has been a good year for her. “I count her, along with Gauff and Swiatek as the three favorites to win.”

In response to where Aryna Sabalenka stands vis-à-vis the US Open, the JTCC President explains that she’s struggling with consistency but that she now knows how to win a Grand Slam. 

I fully expect her to be ready.”

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 and Rybakina No. 4.

I wouldn't be surprised if Gauff hires Gilbert. It would be a great investment for the American: Ponkka
Elena Rybakina also remains a favorite to win the 2023 US Open
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