In one of the best ever Wimbledon men’s singles finals, Spanish top seed Carlos Alcaraz came from behind to beat defending champion Novak Djokovic in a five-set epic of a match, which lasted nearly five hours.
The 36-year-old Djokovic was pre-match favourite and was trying for his fifth successive title at the iconic London venue and eighth in total; as well as what would have been his 24th major. Indeed, the legendary Serb had not been beaten at the tournament since a quarter-final loss way back in 2017 – and even that was because he was forced to retire with injury – creating an astonishing run of 34 consecutive wins.
However, Alcaraz, an incredible 16 years his junior, came into the competition as world number one, and proved he was not going to be intimidated by statistics; although he did look nervy when easily losing the first set, but he fought back and stunned his renowned opponent with some scintillating tennis, as the pair put on a magnificent show for the packed Centre Court crowd.
There were countless moments of sheer brilliance throughout including one of the most remarkable games ever seen midway through the third set, which lasted a ridiculous 26-minutes. Eventually, the young Spaniard ended the recent dominance of Djokovic and clinched victory 1-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 3-6 6-4 to become the third youngest man to win the Wimbledon title in the Open era.
He was presented with the trophy by the Princess of Wales in front of King Felipe of Spain in what he described as “an incredibly proud moment and a dream come true.”
There are times when a contest which is built up to such an extent, often ends in something of an anti-climax, but there was always a feeling that if Alcaraz could hold himself together, this match had all the makings of an absolute classic… and so it proved.
With Spain’s King Felipe in attendance and William and Kate representing the British royal family alongside their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte, plus the likes of Brad Pitt, Stormzy, and Ariana Grande also watching on, everybody in the crowd settled in for one of the most eagerly anticipated finals in years.
Old guard vs new
The old maestro against his young pretender. The two of them have been the leading lights on the ATP Tour throughout the past year and have jostled with each other for that number one position. Djokovic claimed both the Australian and French Open titles earlier in the year, whilst Alcaraz will go to the States next month to try and defend the US title he impressively won last year.
Players serve up a treat
Importantly, the Spaniard first of all needed to overcome the nerves which he admitted he felt when playing the Serbian, in losing at the French semi-finals stage in June and early on he did seem out of sorts, making several unforced errors, as Djokovic raced away with the opening set.
Gradually, he found his form and started to produce some marvellous play, particularly his fast becoming trademark drop-shot, which he executed superbly on repeated occasions. He took the second set and then came out the winner of a quite extraordinary game in the third set which had the audience close to near exhaustion just watching, as he eventually forced his increasingly frustrated opponent to hit the net after 32 points and 13 deuces had been played out, over 26 gruelling minutes.
He comfortably took a 2-1 lead, but such is the champion that Djokovic is, he refused to buckle and came back fighting in the fourth to level the match up at 2-2.
Too good on the day – or just too good?
Just when it looked as if the brilliant Serb – who seemingly had forgotten how to lose – was going to take the initiative, back came Alcaraz and decisively he broke for a 2-1 lead in the deciding set. Equally as crucial was the reaction that the loss of that game had on Djokovic, with him slamming his racquet onto the net post, smashing it in the process, as frustration overwhelmed him following a spell of torment on court, he probably had never previously experienced.
From then the Spaniard kept his nerve to serve out the match and collapsed to the floor when the winning point was secured. The two of them had played out a thrilling contest, with Alcaraz able to provide fearless tennis, as might be expected from a 20-year-old with the talent he possesses.
King is lucky charm
In his post match interview the young man from a small village in Murcia, Spain spoke of the pride he felt for even getting to the final: “Even if I lost, I would have been proud of myself; I didn’t expect to reach this situation really fast.”
Showing great maturity he congratulated his opponent, admitting he had been inspired by him ever since he had begun to play the game: “Making history in this beautiful tournament, playing a final against a legend of the sport – it’s a dream come true.”
He raised laughter from the crowd when asked how he felt about playing in front of the King of his country. He replied by saying it was very special, before adding: “I am really proud that King Felipe is here supporting me. When I played in front of you twice, twice I won, so I hope you are coming more!”
“Best man won”
In the unfamiliar role of losing finalist, Djokovic – who had not been beaten on Centre Court for ten years – showed some humility by admitting he had been beaten by the better player on the day. Fighting back the tears he said: “It is a tough one to swallow when you are so close, but I won many tough matches here, so maybe I have won a couple of finals I should have lost so maybe this is even-steven.”
He added: “I have to congratulate Carlos, and move on; I hope this will be the beginning of a rivalry for some time as I think it is good for the sport. He’s going to be on the tour for quite some time, but I don’t know how long I’ll be around, hopefully we get to play at the US Open.”
Grass is the new clay!
The victory is some achievement by a player who astonishingly had won only FOUR professional matches on grass coming into 2023. His ability to adapt to the surface so rapidly will send a frightening message to everyone else on the tour.
One of the greats in the making
In winning Wimbledon at the age of just twenty, Alcaraz becomes the third youngest man to claim the title after 17-year-old Boris Becker in 1985 and 20-year-old Bjorn Borg in 1976 and if he can go on to be a successful as those two he is in for a special career.
Many wise pundits however are predicting he is likely easily overtake their impressive records and to go onto be one of the all-time greats.