Novak Djokovic came into the Wimbledon final as a heavy favorite, with just Carlos Alcaraz standing in the way of a historic eighth title in London. Before last month, Alcaraz had almost no pedigree on grass. He then won the Queen’s Club Championships, and made his way through the draw at Wimbledon. Still, questions remained. Could the Spaniard overcome that all? Well, he answered the question on Sunday.
Carlos Alcaraz Def. Novak Djokovic 1-6 7-6(6) 6-1 3-6 6-4
Djokovic came out firing, laying down a marker with a huge forehand winner in the second game of the match. He broke Alcaraz in that game, then broke him again two games later, en route to a dominant 6-1 opening set win.
The second set began a bit more evenly, as Alcaraz pulled back a bit and rallies got more extended. Djokovic still appeared better overall, but some fortunate net cords and aggressive returning let the Spaniard break in Djokovic’s first service game of the set. Djokovic broke right back, though, and after saving a break point to hold, the Serb settled into this set, too. However, he could not earn a break–both players held serve consistently, and we were off to a tiebreak.
The second-set tiebreak was an impressive one. Djokovic opened with a minibreak when an Alcaraz forehand sailed long, but gave it back with a drop shot into the net while up 3-2. After both players stayed on serve for 5-4 Alcaraz, Djokovic received a time violation warning, which seemed to frustrate him. He didn’t show it immediately, though, holding both points anyway, but followed up with unforced errors on both of Alcaraz’s return points. Alcaraz followed with a return winner on the next point, and suddenly things were even.
The last time these two met, Alcaraz went all-out to win the second set and even the match, only to suffer debilitating cramps shortly afterwards, effectively ending the match. Grass does not take nearly the toll on the body that clay does, though, and Alcaraz didn’t need to exert nearly as much to win that set. Indeed, the Spaniard showed no signs of physical issues, breaking Djokovic to open the third set.
Djokovic was clearly getting frustrated with some of the umpire’s calls, as well as the fact that his opponent was playing so well. The Serbian was progressively doing worse in long rallies as the match went on, and clearly needed some sort of reset. He didn’t get it in a marathon game while serving down 1-3. In a game with over a dozen deuces, that lated over 26 minutes, Alcaraz finally broke to take a 4-1 lead in the set. It looked like the young Spaniard might be ready to dethrone the GOAT. The game had an impact, and Djokovic was easily broken in the next game to lose the set 6-1. All off a sudden, Alcaraz was one set away from a Wimbledon title.
Novak Djokovic is the best to ever play the game for a reason, though, and wouldn’t go quietly. He took time after the third set to reset, and came back like it was a brand new match. Both players dug out of holes in their first service games, but then the Serb faced another marathon game (though not quite as long) while serving down 1-2. He held, then he pounced. He broke Alcaraz for 3-2, then stayed solid on serve, and followed up with another break to take the set 6-3. We were headed to a decider.
Both players worked hard to hold serve in their opening service game, as every rally was a brutal back-and-forth. Alcaraz broke through at 1-1, though, breaking Djokovic with a great passing shot. The Serbian smashed the net post with his racket in frustration, earning a code violation and possibly hurting his wrist. That didn’t faze Alcaraz, who held to love. Djokovic found his rhythm again, but he was still down a break, and would need to find a way to break back to win the match. The Serbian never took the chance. Alcaraz consistently held, earning a 1-6 7-6(6) 6-1 3-6 6-4 victory.
Alcaraz retains his World #1 ranking, though that likely won’t last through the summer. He will enter the US Open as the defending champion, and now has a win over Novak Djokovic to back it up. The sky is the limit for him, and he’ll surely have many more wins in the future.
Djokovic will surely be disappointed, but he’s still going to be the favorite at every big tournament for the foreseeable future. The Serbian might no longer be on top of the world, but he’s still the closest to it. He’ll have more chances at a historic 24th Major. The only question is when.
Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports