Alcaraz eyes top spot at star-studded China Open

Spanish superstar Carlos Alcaraz is expected to come out firing on all cylinders as he chases the world No 1 spot at the ATP 500

China Open, which begins on Friday.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain hits a return during the final against Cameron Norrie of Britain at the ATP Argentina Open in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb. 19, 2023. (Photo by Martin Zabala/Xinhua)

Alcaraz saw Novak Djokovic leapfrog him in the rankings after the Serbian's dominant display at the US Open earned him his third Grand Slam title of the year. Alcaraz got the better of Djokovic en route to Wimbledon glory and the Spaniard can land another counter punch in their budding rivalry by triumphing at the National Tennis Center in Beijing.

"Believe it or not, Djokovic can still end up as No 2 if Alcaraz shines in China, and if he does very well at the end of the year by winning the ATP Finals," Lars Graff, deputy director of the China Open's command center, said on Monday in Beijing.

"The young guy Alcaraz can still end up as number one. This would be a unique situation."

Djokovic has withdrawn from the China Open, but the tournament still boasts a star-studded lineup, with Alcaraz and Russia's Daniil Medvedev the top seeds in the men's draw. Rising stars such as Italy's Jannik Sinner and Denmark's Holger Rune are also expected to pack out the stands as the Chinese swing resumes on the ATP circuit.

World No 3 Medvedev is raring for the battle to commence.

"It is my first time in Beijing. So far I like it. The tournament is super strong. So if you win it, it's great. It's a great memory. It's great for the confidence," Medvedev told a news conference on Wednesday.

He is also savoring the hospitality in the capital, adding: "I would definitely love to go to the Great Wall if I have time. I love the country... I love the food. Chinese food is probably my favorite food. I love the people. I love the energy."

Medvedev will start his campaign against American Tommy Paul.

Andy Murray, a three-time Grand Slam winner and the only former China Open champion in the draw, will play Australian Alex de Minaur in the first round.

Alcaraz will start against one of the qualifiers and could face a quarterfinal showdown against No 7 seed Casper Ruud of Norway.

With Chinese men's tennis on the rise, Shang Juncheng and Zhou Yi can expect strong support from the home crowd. Shang begins against Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, while Zhou faces Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan.

"We have an extremely strong field in this ATP-500 tournament and the young generation is coming. It's very exciting for the fans to see the new players that have never been to China before," said Graff.

The women's tournament, a WTA 1000 event, also promises to be a fascinating affair, with the world's top three players in town — No 1 Aryna Sabalenka, No 2 Iga Swiatek, and US Open champion Coco Gauff. Swiatek and Sabalenka are two of nine Grand Slam champions in the main draw.