Ivan Ljubicic interview: Djokovic and Alcaraz have separated themselves from the rest of the pack

Roger Federer’s former coach tells Tennis Majors why he expects Sunday’s men’s final at Wimbledon to be explosive

Ivan Ljubicic Ivan Ljubicic in 2023 (JB Autissier/Panoramic)

It’s just under a year since Roger Federer retired from the sport and six months since Rafael Nadal suffered the abdominal injury that has put him out of the game for the rest of the year.

Their absence offered the younger generation a golden opportunity to step up and make a name for themselves, filling the void and hastening the changing of the guard.

But in Sunday’s final at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic has the chance to win his eighth Wimbledon title, equalling the men’s record held by Federer, and to win his third straight slam and leave him needing the US Open to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the calendar-year Grand Slam.

His opponent is the man who usurped him as the world No 1 when he won the US Open last September and who also leapfrogged him at the top after winning Queen’s last month. The No 1 ranking is on the line in Sunday’s final and Ivan Ljubicic, Federer’s former coach, believes the pair have separated themselves from the rest.

“It’s really the two of them, honestly,” said Ljubicic, who was working at Wimbledon as a pundit for Sky Italia. “(Daniil) Medvedev, yes, at times, especially on hardcourt, I feel like he’s obviously competitive, but clay and grass, it’s tough for him so it’s really the two of them.

“Two completely different generations. Yes, guys are here and there, but I think the gap is obvious at the moment. I think the results show it as well, they hardly lose to somebody else other than when they play each other. Alcaraz still needs to show that he can beat Novak, especially in the slams. But I think they are clear, number one and two.”

Ljubicic: Djokovic is the favourite

For Ljubicic, who coached Federer from 2016 to his retirement at the Laver Cup last September, Djokovic has the edge, on paper at least.

I expect Novak’s experience to play quite an important part,” he said, as the Serb prepares to play in a slam final for a record 35th time, compared to Alcaraz, who will be playing in his second.

“But again, Alcaraz of course has weapons to hurt. So it’s going to come down to managing the mental part. And we cannot anticipate that. Alcaraz has a game to hurt Novak and Novak is going to do his thing. We’ll see. I do think Novak starts as favourite. No doubt.

“I felt (Hubert) Hurkacz, who pushed Djokovic hard in a tight four-setter in the last 16, was the only one who could really trouble him because of his big serve and then kind of orthodox style of play.

“But I mean it’s not a surprise for Novak to be in the final; Alcaraz I was doubting, you know because you don’t know with younger players on grass, it takes a few years to kind of feel comfortable on it. But he is in the final now and I hope we’re going to see an explosive final.”

Djokovic so strong tactically

Medvedev, who lost to Alcaraz in the semi-finals, described playing the Spaniard as like playing one of the Big Three of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, such is his level and his intensity.

Ljubicic said what set the Big Three – and Andy Murray – apart was their ability to break down their opponents, as Djokovic showed when dismantling the game of Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals.

“Novak studies the game so well,” he said. “When I was commentating for Sky Italia, we analysed the match before. Of course everybody spoke about last year (when Sinner led by) two sets to love and my comment was that unfortunately Novak had a year to study Jannik and I don’t see any kind of major difference.

“And that’s bad news because Novak will kind of go deep in there. I think Roger and him and Rafa, the three of them, and Andy is in that group as well, they are well beyond their own game – they are very focused on the opponents.

“So they don’t doubt their own skill. They know exactly what they can do, what they cannot do. So they spend the entire time looking at what’s on the other side of the net. And that’s a huge advantage.”

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