On Sunday, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain overcame Novak Djokovic in a dramatic Wimbledon final that spanned a 24-minute single game.
Djokovic won the opening set 6-1, while Alcaraz won the following two. But Djokovic forced a fifth set before falling behind Alcaraz early in that set, down 5-4. But Alcaraz won the next game, giving him the match victory — and the gold prize.
The final pitted first seed Alcaraz against Djokovic, who won his 23rd Grand Slam championship in June, breaking the men’s record.
Instead of Djokovic, a 36-year-old Serbian, becoming the Open era’s oldest male champion, Alcaraz, a 20-year-old Spaniard, became the third-youngest. The age difference between the two was the most pronounced in a men’s Slam final since 1974.
So Alcaraz had youth on his side, as he did when they met at the French Open last month. That one was fantastic for the first two sets before Alcaraz cramped up and faded. He had the stamina and strokes this time to beat Djokovic.
Alcaraz is faster and more powerful — serves top 130 mph, forehands top 100 mph — but Djokovic possesses an array of abilities and muscle memory. He’s been there and done that in ways Alcaraz can only dream about for the time being.
But, if Alcaraz’s win on a windy and overcast day at Centre Court, where Djokovic last lost in the 2013 final, is any indicator, he’s on his way to accomplishing quite a bit himself.
Nonetheless, this is all new to him: Djokovic’s 35th Grand Slam final was Alcaraz’s second.
Nonetheless, it was Alcaraz who claimed the third set with a 32-point, 25-minute mini-masterpiece. And it was Alcaraz who took the lead for good in the fifth, breaking to go up 2-1 with a backhand passing winner. Djokovic, who collapsed during the point but swiftly recovered, reacted by slamming his racket into the net post and letting go on impact. Chair umpire Fergus Murphy issued him a code infraction after he destroyed his equipment.
They’d play for another 24 minutes, pushing the total to more than 4 1/2 hours, but Alcaraz never gave up. After the last point, it was Alcaraz, not Djokovic, who covered his face and rolled in the grass before receiving the gold trophy.
“What quality at the end of the match,” Djokovic said to Alcaraz following the encounter. “You absolutely deserve it.”
Alcaraz has a sledgehammer forehand that he unleashes with such force that an observer would believe every ounce of strength, indeed every fibre of his being, is engaged in each swing. The smash of the racket and his exhilarating “Uhhh-ehhh!” exhale reverberated across the arena on Sunday, as did the gasps of bystanders.
That’s not to imply Alcaraz’s abilities end with his powerful forehand. He is much more than that, exhibiting the most diverse all-court game possible, which is why fame is expected of him. He’s good at everything, including well-hidden drop shots that helped him get back into the game in the second and third sets.
Djokovic, of course, has already attained greatness, spending more weeks at No. 1 than any man or woman in the computerised rankings’ half-century history and amassing 23 Grand Slam titles — one more than Rafael Nadal and three more than Roger Federer, the only man with eight Wimbledon titles.
Djokovic would scramble, stretch, and slide nearly into the splits so often on Sunday to get Alcaraz’s apparent point-ending shots back over the net in ways no one else could.
However, things began to change at 4-all in the second set. Djokovic slid below the baseline under the Royal Box on a worn patch, tossing his racket away as he fell. Djokovic flexed one leg by bending it over the other at the next changeover. Before returning to the court to resume play, he stretched his left heel against the net. His legs began to provide less coverage than they had previously, and the force of his forehand was diminished.
They’d go to a tiebreaker, which Djokovic dominated: he’d won all six set-enders he’d played at Wimbledon coming up to the final, and 15 straight in Grand Slam competition dating back to the Australian Open.
This time, Djokovic got a set point while leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker, prompting the first chants of the day from his supporters: “No-le! No-le!” But he made it 6-all with a backhand into the net, and as the players switched sides, a competing chant of “Car-los! Car-los!” erupted.
Djokovic’s backhand into the net brought Alcaraz within a point of winning the set. He converted by hitting a backhand passing winner off the return of a 118-mph serve, then maintaining his follow-through position. As the crowd erupted, Alcaraz whirled around, his right hand to his ear, soaking in the moment.
The fifth game of the third set alone might have been worth the exorbitant price of admission. Neither man was willing to bend. Neither of them wanted to give anything up. It was only one game, but it felt considerably more significant than that.
When Djokovic slapped a forehand into net to give Alcaraz a break — one of five in the match, more than Djokovic’s previous six opponents combined in 103 service games over the previous two weeks — and a 4-1 lead in the set, the Spaniard threw his head back and yelled, “Vamos!”
With a white equipment bag draped over his right shoulder, Djokovic made his way to the locker room. He’s used these types of intermissions to regroup and alter momentum, and he succeeded in extending this fantastic match to a fifth set.
One of numerous reasons to like Djokovic’s chances at that point: he had a 10-1 record in five-setters at Wimbledon and a 35-9 record overall.
“I’ve learned really, really fast,” Alcaraz said after receiving an embrace from Spain’s King Felipe VI, “and I’m really, really proud.”