In tennis there are levels, then there are big three levels.
With the big three era coming to an end with Roger Federer's sad retirement last year and Rafael Nadal's whole season wiped out with injury we are left with a clear dominant two on the tour.
The one active member of the big three Novak Djokovic, whose body is showing no signs of wear and tear at age 36 is still producing that special level that the big three possess. The rest of the tour feared coming up against a member of the big three over the best part of the last 20 years such is the dominance and mental edge they possessed over their opponents.
As a tennis fan, we have been blessed to get arguably the greatest three tennis players of all time at the same time and it's been an honour and privilege to watch.
Time waits for know one though and all good things must come to an end, and it looks as though the big three era has reached that end.
Now 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz has come along and already shown that he has the big three levels and traits that he shares in common with them.
First and foremost is the fear factor the rest of the tour has when they come up against Alcaraz. Carlos is less experienced than these guys but the level he has shown and what he has already achieved at such a young age has gotten into his opponent's heads.
It was often said players were 0-3 down before they walked onto the court when facing a Big Three member and it's beginning to feel that way with Alcaraz.
The player himself though seems to be the perfect mix of the big three. He seems to be cut from the same cloth as fellow Spaniard Nadal with his humbleness and mentality. His game has elements of all three big three members' strengths which makes him formidable.
The rivalry's the big three have created over the last 20 years have just been other-worldly.
They have all had such incredible matches against each other on the biggest stages of all. Throughout tennis history, there have been many great rivalries but with the big three, we have witnessed the greatest matches the sport has ever seen. You can't help but think there will now be a void to fill.
It appears that the void has started to emerge with a rivalry that is a clash of generations.
Djokovic v Alcaraz is developing into an incredible rivalry with them meeting at the last two grand slams and alternating between the number 1 and 2 ranking throughout the year. From the second half of last year when Nadal's injuries struck him down it's been clear that 36-year-old Djokovic and 20-year-old Alcaraz have separated themselves from the rest.
Their first meeting came at the Madrid Masters 1000 in early May last year where the hype around Alcaraz was more than justified after he became the first man to beat Nadal and Djokovic in back-to-back matches. An extremely close best-of-3 set match went Alcaraz's way with a 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) victory where he showed incredible calmness with unbelievable shotmaking in the big moments.
They would not meet again for the rest of the year.
By the time the 2023 Australian Open rolled around it was the one match-up everyone in the tennis world was licking their lips to see. Unfortanley Alcaraz had to withdraw with injury so the wait continued.
By the time the 2nd major of the season the French Open arrived we still hadn't had a meeting between the pair since that match in Madrid over a year ago. With Nadal out of the draw, it cleared the way for a potential final between the two. However, they ended up in the same half of the draw which meant they were due to meet at the semi-final stage and that is exactly what we got. The tennis world was in a buzz about this match and for good reason, the level these two can produce is like no other on tour (injured Nadal aside). It was thought that on clay Alcaraz was the slight favourite to win this match.
What we got was an incredibly high level, big three level tennis for the first two sets where they split sets before early in the third set Alcaraz started to cramp up, first in his hand unable to grip his racquet and then through his whole body. Hampered by full body cramp the match from that point was not a contest as Djokovic breezed away taking the final two sets easily.
Alcaraz admitted in the press conference that the nerves of playing such a big-stakes match at such a high level were a factor in getting the full body cramps. The 36-year-olds experience in these big matches was telling here. The way this match ended left a sour taste in everyone's mouths as we were robbed of a truly wonderful contest.
We didn't have to wait long at all to get a rematch, just a few weeks later they would meet in the Wimbledon final.
This time though it was Djokovic who was the heavy favourite as his incredible record at Wimbledon in recent times made him seem unbeatable on the grass. The thought was with Alcaraz with very little experience at Wimbledon and on grass altogether that he had done well to make the final but there it would end.
The match itself was fascinating. There were many questions to be answered, Has Alcaraz learnt from the nervous-cramping big match breakdown from the French Open and could he handle the almost unbeatable grass expert?
The first set was very one-sided and it looked as if Djokovic grass court pedigree would be too much for young Alcaraz, it seem that once again the big match experience would be telling. The second set though was played at a special different level, the big three tennis level.
Alcaraz taking the set in a tiebreaker 8 points to 6 was not only astonishing due to the high level but Djokovic had won 15 consecutive tiebreakers at grand slam level making it such a mental hurdle to overcome.
The rest of the match was just an incredible level of the most tense and entertaining tennis you could ever see. Alcaraz raced out to 2 sets to 1 lead before Djokovic stormed back to take the 4th and send us into a 5th set Wimbledon final.
A tight and tense 5th set but it was Alcaraz that showed amazing calmness and courage to go big in the closing moments and was able to close it out and not only win his first Wimbledon title and 2nd major but defeated the 7-time champion.
The match itself sits comfortably with the best matches we have ever seen over the years from the big three, Nadal v Federer 2008 Wimbledon final, Nadal v Djokovic 2012 Aus open final and Federer v Djokovic 2019 Wimbledon final are the ones that come straight to mind and this match now sits comfortably in this category.
With the US open just a week away we were treated to another more than special match in this bubbling rivalry.
They met in the Cincinnati Masters 1000 final on Monday morning AEST and once again these two pushed each other to their absolute limits reaching those special levels that only they can. A 3-hour and 50-minute best-of-3 sets match that was truly epic.
A dramatic match that looked as though was heading Alcaraz's way after he took the first set and up a break in the second while Djokovic was struggling with not only the heat but his much younger energised opponent.
Alcaraz though played a poor service game at 4-3 in the 2nd set to open the door back into the match for Djokovic. Unbelievably Djokovic hung in there long enough to save a match point to take the match into a deciding 3rd set winning the tiebreaker 9 points to 7. There is a common theme emerging and that is there matches always go the distance.
A brutal and absorbing 3rd set with absolutely nothing between them and tennis in the closing stages that reached the best of the best big 3 levels. More than an hour before Alcaraz had a match point Djokovic would bring up his first. Alcaraz would save that one and another 4 more along the way with absolutely wondrous tennis before reaching a deciding set tiebreaker.
The only way to describe the final set would be to steal a line from the great commentator Robbie Koenig " Tennis nearer the gods ". Djokovic would show his steel and be able to close out the match and level up the head-to-head at 2-2.
We know that Djokovic is part of the big three 3 which has taken tennis to a new astonishing level but Alcaraz has shown he belongs at this special level. With the US Open on our doorstep let's hope we get to see the next instalment of this heating-up rivalry because the level of their matches is just insane. A 16-year age gap makes this a different element to that of the big three rivalries but it is as fascinating and interesting as ever!