The rivalry between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic has played out at the top of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings this season, with the pair jockeying for World No. 1 throughout 2023. The 20-year-old Alcaraz began the year at the pinnacle of the men’s game and has since traded the top spot with Djokovic, with each man enjoying two separate stints as No. 1. 

Alcaraz will reclaim the honour from the Serbian in the next edition of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings by simply taking the court on Saturday for his Internazionali BNL d’Italia debut against fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas. But after months of back-and-forth drama, Alcaraz and Djokovic could meet on the court for the first time this year during the Rome ATP Masters 1000.

“Being in the same tournament with Novak is great, having him here and learning from him,” Alcaraz said, after injuries for both men prevented them from being in the same draw previously this season. “It’s always good having the best tennis players in the world in the tournament. It’s great. I hope to meet him in the final.

“I always say that as a tennis fan, I always want to see the best players in the world, to watch them, learn from them, because you have to learn from everyone. It’s great to share the tournament [with him].”

If the top two seeds meet in the Rome final, it would be their second ATP Head2Head meeting. Alcaraz won a thrilling 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) semi-final last year in Madrid on the way to completing a Spanish trophy double across Barcelona and the nation’s capital — a feat he repeated this season.

While the tennis world is eager to see the pair develop a rivalry on the court, Alcaraz said his biggest rival is himself.

“I said before that your biggest rival is yourself. It’s not only for me, it’s for everyone,” he explained. “You have to control yourself, your emotions first, then playing against the opponent.

“You have to choose the correct [tactics and shots] in every moment. That is really tough because we have just seconds before hitting the ball. It’s tough. It’s not just for me, it’s for everyone.”

As Alcaraz looks ahead for his Rome debut, his opening match also brings back memories of the past. The matchup against Ramos-Vinolas is a repeat of his very first ATP Tour match, which he won in a third-set tie-break in Rio de Janeiro in 2020.

“It was a really good match for me, my first ATP win against him,” recalled Alcaraz, who now owns a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against his countryman. “But, yeah, that was a long time ago.

“After that I played [him] a few times more. It was really tough. I would say it’s a good first round for me. I have to play well to get through. Let’s see. I’m going to enjoy my first match here. Obviously here it’s such a nice place to be, to play, to enjoy the Italian fans. It’s always great to play in front [of them]. I’m going to enjoy that moment.”