In a five set epic on Sunday for the Wimbledon trophy, world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz won his second Grand Slam title in under a year, defeating seven-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 and ending the 36-year-old’s campaign for the coveted calendar Grand Slam in 2023.
The match clocked in at four hours and 42 minutes and was the third-longest final in Wimbledon history. Djokovic has seen quite a lot in his decorated 23 year career, but has never had to face a complete player with spunk quite like Alcaraz.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” Alcaraz said on court after the match. “But even if I would have lost, I would be really proud of myself, making history in this beautiful tournament, playing a final against a legend of our sport. It’s incredible.”
At 20 years old, Alcaraz became the third-youngest men’s winner at Wimbledon in the Open era (since 1968). Alcaraz also put a halt to Djokovic’s chance to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles.
Playing in just his fourth tournament on grass, Alcaraz shocked the tennis world with how rapidly he has adapted and dominated on his least accomplished surface. In the last two appearances at the All England Club, Alcaraz had come up short with fourth round exits.
After suffering a disappointing loss last month to Djokovic due to cramps in the Roland Garros semifinal, Alcaraz decided to play a grass-court tournament at London’s Queen’s Club. He looked uneasy in the first round as he struggled to find a way to translate his game on grass.
The Spaniard said he’d been watching videos of eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer, the player to whom he’s most compared and Andy Murray. He said he considers them to be the best movers on grass and wanted to learn from their style.
Alcaraz said many times that he believed he could beat Djokovic in the final. What Alcaraz accomplished Sunday is a change of the guard. Djokovic hadn’t lost a match here since 2017. He is a seven-time Wimbledon champion and already won the first two majors of this year.
Alcaraz didn’t hang his head and pushed forward from a disastrous opening hour of tennis. Djokovic was running a clinical in the first set. He dismantled Alcaraz’s forehand and rushed him into errors.
Alcaraz won only his final service game that set, but he came alive during every point. The game was suddenly coming into focus for the Spaniard. Before the second set Sunday, Djokovic’s serve had been broken only three times in 103 games.
After exchanging breaks with Djokovic in the second set, he faced him in a tiebreak. Alcaraz became the first to beat the 23-time Grand Slam champion in a tiebreak since Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals last year at Roland Garros. Djokovic had a point for a two-set lead in the tiebreak, but dumped a backhand into the net.
Finally clinching the 85-minute second set, he lifted his racket up in the air, finally able to enjoy the moment and exhale as the Wimbledon crowd roared in relief for him.
In the first game of the third set, Djokovic again netted a routine backhand, off a top-spin Alcaraz inside-out forehand. This shot earned Alcaraz an early break. Djokovic’s body language was that of someone shocked to find himself in a deficit.
The fifth game of the set had Djokovic serving, it lasted a lengthy thirteen deuces, as Alcaraz kept finding break points and Djokovic saving them. It was an unreal, twenty-seven minutes of tennis. It had all the thrills that you expect from a singular set, compacted into one service game.
When Djokovic brought this to an end by awkwardly sending another shot into the net, the momentum had fully shifted to Alcaraz. The echoes of “Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!” rang across Center Court as the crowd encouraged the Spaniard.
Back into the match and taking the fourth set, Djokovic then looked to be confident to break serve in fifth. A few minutes later, Djokovic made an awkward attempt at a high forehand volley instead of an easy overhead. He saved a break point in the second game, winning a long rally that saw him flying around the court.
Alcaraz threaded a stunning backhand pass to break Djokovic in the following game. Djokovic couldn’t hold his frustration any longer after being broken. He swung his racket into the net post as he felt the match slipping away.
With newfound grit and sense of freedom, he broke Djokovic in the third game and eventually toppled the Wimbledon great.
“I managed to regroup and regain the momentum midway in the fourth. I felt that the momentum shifted to my side. That break point (in the fifth), I think I played a really good point, but it was very windy and the wind took it to an awkward place where I couldn’t hit the smash.”
Djokovic has since been fined a $8,000 (£6,100) for “racket abuse,” marking the highest individual fine of the 2023 season to date.
Djokovic received a warning for his racket-smashing antics. The one prior was for taking too long to serve during the second-set tiebreak. He was lucky that flying chunks of his racket did not make contact with an official or a fan. This would’ve resulted in the match defaulting to Alcaraz automatically.
“There’s not much to talk about that. It was frustration,” said Djokovic, who left a noticeable dent in the Center Court net post.
Finally coming into his own, Alcaraz with an electrifying display of grit, endurance and poised demeanor, was able broke Djokovic’s serve in the third game, eventually toppling the Wimbledon great.
“For someone of his age to handle the nerves, be playing attacking tennis, and to close out the match the way he did, he came up with some amazing shots,” Djokovic said in his post-match press conference.
“I must say, the slices, the chipping returns, the net play, it’s very impressive. I didn’t expect him to play so well this year on grass, but he’s proven that he’s the best player in the world, no doubt. He’s playing some fantastic tennis on different surfaces, and he deserves to be where he is.”
Djokovic was also on track to add a rare accomplishment: a calendar Grand Slam. A player with only 17 matches of grass-court experience ended his hope of holding all four major titles within the same calendar year. Alcaraz simply outplayed Djokovic.
The future is bright for Alcaraz
Alcaraz’s road to the Wimbledon final was a major test. In seven matches, he knocked out three top-25 players, as well as the No. 2 and 3 players in the world to take the trophy.
“Before this match, I thought, ‘I can’t beat Novak.’ But after this epic match, I’ll think different about Novak. In other Grand Slams, I will remember this moment.” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz won the match by being himself and by truly enjoying the magnitude of these moments. Even in tough spots, he found reasons to smile on court. Winning his first Wimbledon, along with his 2022 U.S. Open victory over Casper Ruud, Alcaraz swept up any doubts about his world No. 1 status and avenged his cramp-riddled loss to Djokovic in the French Open semi-final.
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Featured image courtesy of Wimbledon
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