One of my heroes, Ken Rosewall, turned 86 on Monday. He is one of the all-time greats, and it always seems unfair to me that the GOAT discussion should always encompass Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Laver, Sampras, or even Tilden and Budge, but never once the diminutive Aussie… The reason, besides the age of arguers who are usually too young to have witnessed his playing days, is also the fact that the debate usually boils down to how many Majors this or that player has won, which is understandable, but it eschews the fact that Rosewall had to miss 44 of those!
It’s hard to write about Ken without mentioning Rod Laver, his greatest rival, but in this article I will try to to mesh his long-standing Rocket affair with some personal anecdotes on my personal experience with Rosewall – some of them fairly recent.
This year’s French Open final was branded as the 56th duel between Djokovic and Nadal, a rivalry that has risen to be the most frequently combated of the modern era of tennis, with the Serbian leading the way with 29 wins to Rafa’s recently clinched 27. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova met even more often, facing each other 80 times, 60 of which happened in finals! In a dualism spanning 16 years, Martina won 43 times to Evert’s 37.
Well, statheads will tell you that even the Navratilova v Evert rivalry pales in comparison to what Laver and Rosewall did – they met 164 times! Laver won 89 of those, conceding on 75 occasions – the actual tally might actually be well over 200. Some of these results include matches played in Nairobi, Harare, Knokke le Zoute, Lake Tahoe, and Perth – I don’t think Chrissie or Martina ever braved any of those places. However, just like them, rural Rod and city kid Ken (he hails from Sydney) became very close friends and never missed a chance to showcase their reciprocal respect. “I can’t remember how many times I played Ken,” Rod Laver told me the day the Centre Court in Melbourne was renamed after him. “Nobody kept count in those days, except maybe for your friend Rino Tommasi!”
Their careers can be divided in three acts:
- The amateur years, which for Rosewall lasted until 1956 and for Laver until 1962.
- The professional saga, i.e. the years in between the end of their dilettante debuts and 1968, living like gypsies at Jack Kramer’s behest. Laver won 11 Slams to Rosewall’s 8, but while the former had to skip 5 seasons and 20 of the greatest tournaments due to his pro status, the latter disappeared from the Slams for 11 seasons and 44 events – how many would he have won of those? Would he have been able to surpass Federer and Nadal’s current tally? I believe he would have. The pros had annual (almost) guaranteed contracts, but they were far too proud to tank a match, and always put the effort in – you can bet on both players’ desire to always have an edge on the rival.
- The Open Era, from 1968 onwards – the great revolution? The prize money. Very few players were able to make a living with tennis until 1968: there were those who played for authoritarian, Eastern European countries, others who were subsidised by their national federations (Pietrangeli in Italy, Santana in Spain, and some who elected not to go pro for various reasons), and then there were the pros. However, even the members of Kramer’s troupe weren’t exactly well off, since they had to pay for travel, day after day, in places that were pretty far from being the fancy hotel suites that contemporary champions enjoy. Rod Laver once recounted that in Khartoum insects were so numerous that they basically enforced a curfew over the city! “We were playing outdoors, and we kept going until a swarm of hornets showed up and physically dimmed the court’s spotlights – that was our night-night signal!” That night he and Rosewall weren’t actually slated to square off, so their duel tally wasn’t affected.
After helping Australia to three Davis Cup triumphs, Rosewall turned pro in 1956 at a time when Pancho Gonzales was the top dog among the Kramer-led group. Several Aussies had tried (and would try) to topple him, Sedgman, Cooper, Hoad, Anderson. In 1957, Gonzales beat Rosewall 50 times to “Muscle”’s 26, and the ensuing season he dominated with a 14-3 score – that would be 35 more wins for the American. Because of this early lead (which would extend into 1960, when he paced Rosewall 20 wins to 5), Pancho ended up prevailing in the head-to-head tally, 116-86. However, Ken had the edge in 1964, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1970 – Gonzales, born in 1928, was six years older, explaining the progression of the rivalry, and also explaining why Laver had a comfortable 43-22 lead against him, although it should remember that he lost three times out of five in 1970, when Pancho was 42!
It was thus inevitable that Gonzales would give way to Rosewall, who validated his newfound pre-eminence by winning several tours and Pro Slams – he would end with a record-breaking 15 titles in the then de facto Majors. The tour needed some fresh competition, though, as he recounted himself: “In 1962, some of us were getting up there in terms of our age, so we needed to inject some new blood, and Rod had just completed a calendar year amateur Grand Slam… Lew Hoad and I helped to find 150,000 dollars, which were guaranteed to Rod over a three-year contract.”
“I admired Ken, but I was younger and I had never faced him as an amateur,” says Laver. “The first time I played him it was in Sydney as a professional… and he was too good for me!”
Rosewall won 11 of their opening 13 meetings throughout the American winter. Laver reminisces: “I wondered whether I had made a sound decision in joining the professional circuit, which meant having to drive on those icy roads while I could have been playing as an amateur in the Caribbean and getting handsomely reimbursed! But I wanted to compete against the best, and the pros were the best.”
It wasn’t an easy time. In 1963, after winning the previous year as an amateur, Laver lost against Rosewall at Forest Hills, and all the two finalists had to show for it… was a handshake, albeit hearty. “There was never any certainty regarding money… nor regarding the future as a whole.”
In 1967, Wimbledon organised a tournament for the pros, one months after the Championships. Laver handily won the event, and the AELTC realised that there was no point in keeping up the façade and in excluding the best in the business. Soon after, the committee voted to admit professionals from the ensuing season.
By 1968, Rosewall and Laver were both over 30, but Ken still managed to win the very first Slam of the Open Era, defeating Laver at the French Open. A year later, the Rocket avenged his defeat, clinching the second Major of the year on his way to another Grand Slam.
Their most memorable matches would come later, at least from a commercial standpoint, since their WCT Finals matches in 1971 and 1972 were broadcast all over the world. The latter is still considered one of the greatest matches of all time, with Rosewall prevailing, 4-6 6-0 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(5). Laver had a 5-4 lead in the decider’s tie-breaker with two serves on hand, but Rosewall counterpunched with two signatures backhands to net the 50,000 dollars winner’s loot, a hefty sum for the time. Muscle was 37 years old: “I never thought I’d be able to play in a match like this at 37… By now, I thought I would have been selling insurance…”
Well, he kept going for a few more years, winning more titles: his final trophy came in Hong Kong in 1977, when he was 43, two years after Laver’s last win in Orlando, Florida, at 37 years old. As I mentioned, they dueled 164 times over a 14-year span, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, since many other matches were lost down “the long winding road,” as the Beatles would sing. Laver had a 22-9 edge during the Open Era, but Rosewall won their final outing in Houston – at least, these numbers are certain.
On page 2, the last time I met Rosewall
Lesson Failed: Never Take A Legend For Granted
Carlos Alcaraz should have learned at least one important lesson from his marathon loss to Novak Djokovic in the Cincinnati final.
Never take anything for granted against a legend such as Djokovic.
Alcaraz paid a big price for ignoring that lesson in Sunday afternoon’s scorching heat on a blistering hard court.
NOVAK APPEARED TO BE HEADED FOR DEFEAT
Djokovic appeared to be a beaten man when Alcaraz served with a 4-3 lead in the second set. He was virtually wiped out, or so it appeared.
But the match really was just beginning. Alcaraz won the first point of that eighth game of the set, and everything appeared to be in order for the young Spaniard.
Boy, did things change quickly as Alcaraz carelessly committed four consecutive unforced errors. Suddenly, it was a new game with Novak looking alive and well. Four games later, they were in a tiebreaker and Alcaraz held his only match point of the day.
Djokovic was on fire then and on his way to a 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) victory.
LOSS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
Of course, this one really didn’t mean that much to either Djokovic or Alcaraz. They are after bigger goals.
The big one comes up in New York in almost three weeks, if both players can make it to the final of the U.S. Open.
Alcaraz can only get better. After all, he’s only 20 years old. He made a remarkable improvement over his performance in losing to Tommy Paul a week earlier in Toronto.
You wouldn’t think Djokovic can get much better than the game he played in the Cincinnati final. Yes, it should be steaming hot in Arthur Ashe Stadium, too.
FIVE SETS A TELLING STORY
This time it will be five sets, and there is no telling who will survive the heat best, if Alcaraz gets another shot at Djokovic. For both players to make it through two weeks in New York to the Sunday final would be a major achievement for Djokovic and defending champion Alcaraz.
Either way, it probably is just a matter of time before Djokovic gives up the chase for more Grand Slam titles. It is worth it in the end of other majors for Djokovic only if he can prevail through the final shot.
But anything short of other major titles wouldn’t be worth what Djokovic went through Sunday in Cincinnati for 229 minutes. Of course, Alcaraz went through similar circumstances at the French Open.
But he’s 16 years younger than Djokovic.
All of the great ones eventually have to surrender to time.
COCO IS A STAR IN THE MAKING
Coco Gauff likely will become one of the great ones before she finishes. A Grand Slam title in New York would set her on her way to greatness.
The 19-year-old, much like Alcaraz, is loaded with weapons. First, she is a great athlete.
That was obvious to me as early as May 2019 when I spotted Gauff resting on a bench at courtside after a long workout at LTP Tennis in Charleston. She already had qualified for the $100K ITF tournament there.
I interviewed Coco for just a few minutes before she was called back to the court. A month later she was in the round of 16 at the French Open.
JUST A MATTER OF TIME FOR GAUFF
Just 15 years old, it was just a matter of time before Gauff would become a superstar.
She isn’t quite there yet, but after winning titles in Washington as well as her first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, Gauff is getting close. She still has two more chances to win a Grand Slam title as a teenager, and the next step could be New York. She already has the experience of a runner-up finish at last year’s French Open.
Gauff really didn’t have much trouble upending Karolina Muchova, 6-3, 6-4, at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open on Sunday.
But again, the draw for the U.S. Open will be filled with players capable of winning a Grand Slam title, even including the likes of Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, ranked just ninth in the world. As a left-hander, she already has the edge over most of the players in the field.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Steve Flink On Wimbledon 2023
Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic’s epic five set battle headlined Wimbledon 2023.
Perhaps there has never been a generational clash quite like this one in the Wimbledon final. Here was Carlos Alcaraz at the age of 20— but with the mindset and game of a 30-year-old—facing the 36-year-old Djokovic, who was performing all through the tournament and across the Grand Slam season like a man a decade younger. Alcaraz was in search of a second Grand Slam title, and deeply determined to add the world’s most prestigious crown to the U.S. Open championship he secured last September.
Contrast his plight with that of Djokovic. The Serbian was trying for the second time in three years to sweep the first three majors of the season and move on to New York in quest of a calendar year Grand Slam—the only authentic kind there is. Already Djokovic had moved past Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros to the top of the men’s list with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, but now he stood one match away from a tie with Margaret Court at 24 for the most majors sealed by a man or woman.
Moreover, Djokovic was seeking to equal Roger Federer’s men’s record of eight singles titles at the shrine of Wimbledon, and to win the world’s premier title for the fifth straight time and stand alongside Federer (2003-2007) and Bjorn Borg (1976-80) by realizing that feat. Djokovic had not lost on the Centre Court for ten years, since confronting Andy Murray in the 2013 final. He carried a 45 match Centre Court winning streak into the arena when he took on Alcaraz, and a 34 match winning streak overall at the sport’s showcase event.
As for the Spaniard, he had his own historical reasons to succeed. Only two Spanish men had ever won Wimbledon, with Manolo Santana taking the title in 1966 in the amateur era and Nadal winning twice in 2008 and 2010. In turn, Alcaraz was attempting to become the third youngest man in the Open Era to be a Wimbledon singles champion. Boris Becker claimed the preeminent tournament in tennis 38 years ago at 17 and Bjorn Borg won his first title in 1976.
No doubt history was swirling .in the air as Djokovic and Alcaraz stopped onto Centre Court for their eagerly awaited final round appointment. Alcaraz was seeded first based on his No. 1 status in the ATP Rankings but Djokovic was the clear favorite due to his Wimbledon dominance and his vast experience as a big match player of long standing. By reaching his 35th major final, Djokovic had surpassed Chris Evert for the record in that category and he was in dogged pursuit of a 24th Grand Slam title. Alcaraz was appearing in only his second major final.
That gap in experience seemed consequential at the outset of this duel on a windy Sunday afternoon in Great Britain. It was Djokovic who came out of the blocks blazing while the Spaniard was misfiring in the early stages, overcooking too many shots and playing into the Serbian’s hands. Be that as it may, Djokovic could have been no better than he was in the opening set.
He did struggle in the first game of the match but he saved a break point with a 127 MPH service winner to the backhand. After two deuces, he held on with another unanswerable first serve released at 125 MPH to the Spaniard’s backhand. Now that he had that hold behind him, Djokovic went to work with striking clarity and precision. Alcaraz was coaxed into three forehand mistakes in the following game while Djokovic released one winning forehand of his own. The Serbian broke for 2-0 at 30 and then held at 30 with a 121 MPH ace down the T.
Alcaraz could feel Djokovic bearing down on him. He rallied from 15-40 to deuce in the fourth game but Djokovic converted on his third break point for 4-0 with a deep backhand crosscourt return drawing an error. Djokovic promptly held for 5-0 at 15, sending a 121 MPH serve down the T to set up a swing volley winner off the forehand. To 5-0 he went. Djokovic wrapped up the set 6-1 with a love hold, putting away an overhead to seal it in only 35 minutes.
But Alcaraz responded admirably to the swiftness of his first set disappointment. As Djokovic struggled with his toss in the burdensome wind, the Spaniard broke for 2-0 after two deuces as the Serbian pulled a forehand crosscourt wide at break point down. Djokovic retaliated immediately to break back in the third game by probing once more to draw Alcaraz into forehand errors. He then saved a break point on his way to 2-2. The two players stayed on serve for the rest of the set.
That meant this critical set would be settled in a tie-break, which seemed like a big advantage for Djokovic. He had won no fewer than 15 tie-breaks in a row at the majors, including his last three at the Australian Open, six more at Roland Garros and another six during this edition of Wimbledon. Justifiably confident, he surged to 3-0 in this sequence as Alcaraz drove a backhand long down the line before Djokovic delivered a pair of unstoppable first serves.
Alcaraz quickly took his two service points and then benefitted from a netted backhand drop shot from Djokovic to reach 3-3. Nevertheless, Djokovic advanced to set point with Alcaraz serving at 5-6. The Serbian made a fine return off a first serve and Alcaraz replied with a deep crosscourt backhand. Djokovic has long possessed the best and most reliable backhand in the game. His two-hander is rock solid and he measures it impeccably under pressure. But, shockingly, he sent his two-hander into the net tape.
The two players changed ends of the court and now Djokovic erred once more off the backhand, netting another shot inexplicably. Those two glaring mistakes took Djokovic from the brink of a two set lead to set point down. He tried to serve-and-volley behind a 118 MPH first serve out wide in the ad court, but Alcaraz anticipated that play uncannily and laced a magnificent two-handed return up the line for a winner. The tie-break belonged to Alcaraz eight points to six. The match was deadlocked at one set all. In the space of a few crucial minutes the match had significantly changed colors.
Djokovic was clearly perturbed by what had happened. With Alcaraz keeping more and more returns in play and forcing Djokovic to generate his own pace, the Spaniard surged to 3-1 in the third set. They then engaged in a spirited 27 minute game stretching across 13 deuces. Alcaraz’s persistence was rewarded as he gained the break for 4-1. A dispirited Djokovic lost eight of the next ten points as Alcaraz moved into a two sets to one lead by virtue of that 6-1 third set success.
The seven-time champion took a long bathroom break after the third set, but soon was in another precarious corner when he served at 0-1, 15-40 in the fourth. But he pieced together four points in a row to reach 1-1. At 2-2, Djokovic broke by chipping a soft backhand pass at the feet of Alcaraz and eliciting a half volley error. Revitalized, Djokovic held at 30 for 4-2 and moved to 5-3 with a love game on his delivery.
Now Alcaraz seemed fatigued. In the ninth game of the fourth set he double faulted twice and was broken at 15. The set was in the Djokovic victory column 6-3, and he had the advantage of serving first in the final set. Djokovic fended off a break point on his way to 1-0 in the fifth, and he advanced to break point in the second game. He opened up the court with a crosscourt backhand, approached behind an impeccable forehand down the line, and seemed certain to win the point. But when Alcaraz lobbed off the backhand, Djokovic was concerned about the wind and chose to play a forehand swing volley rather than an overhead. Trying to go behind the Spaniard and much to his dismay, Djokovic netted that shot.
That was a major opportunity missed by Djokovic. Gamely, Alcaraz held on for 1-1 with a forehand drop shot winner and a dazzling forehand winner down the line. At 30-30 in the following game, Djokovic did not get in position properly for Alcaraz’s return down the middle and he netted a forehand. Down break point, Djokovic was beaten by a superbly executed backhand down the line passing shot from Alcaraz.
In a flash, Alcaraz had come from nearly being a break down in the final set to surging in front 2–1. He now was playing with unmistakable energy and inspiration. He held at love with an ace down the T for 3-1. Serving at 3-2, Alcaraz trailed 15-30 but he coaxed two forehand errors from Djokovic and held with another ace for 4-2 by releasing a 123 MPH ace out wide. Alcaraz was soaring to another level at this stage. He went to 5-3 with a second serve ace at 40-15 out wide in the deuce court.
Djokovic held comfortably at 15 for 4-5 and forced Alcaraz to serve out the match in the tenth game. At 15-15, the Spaniard lunged to his left for a remarkable drop volley winner off a well struck pass from Djokovic, who then used a deep return to set up a forehand winner for 30-30. Yet Alcaraz was unshakable. A 130 MPH first serve down the T provoked an errant blocked backhand return from Djokovic. At 40-30, Alcaraz connected with another excellent first serve. The return was short and then Alcaraz’s forehand rushed Djokovic into an error. In four hours and 42 minutes, Alcaraz upended Djokovic 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. It was a title hard earned and a victory well deserved. His fifth set performance was stirring and spectacular.
Djokovic commenced his quest for a fifth crown in a row at Wimbledon with a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) triumph over Argentina’s Pedro Cachin. The world No. 68 had Djokovic down an early break before the Serbian found his range and captured the first two sets comfortably. Nonetheless, Cachin served superbly all through the third set and the No. 2 seed could not break him. They went to a tie-break and Djokovic was, as usual, impenetrable.
Next on the agenda for Djokovic was the seasoned Jordan Thompson. The 29-year-old world No. 70 performed at a level much higher than his ranking. Djokovic broke him once in the opening set but the rest of the way he had his work cut out for him. Thompson was serving-and-volleying behind almost every first delivery and most of his second serves as well. He was sound on the volley throughout. Djokovic once more came through with another nearly impeccable tie-break display to seal the second set, releasing three aces, a service winner and an unstoppable second serve. He did not concede a point on serve, prevailing seven points to four. Djokovic managed one more service break in the final game of the match to record a 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 victory.
His next adversary was a familiar foe. Djokovic had faced the burly Swiss powerhouse Stan Wawrinka on 26 occasions in the past, and had been victorious in 20 of those meetings. Wawrinka however, had ousted Djokovic every time he had won a Grand Slam tournament, upending the Serbian in a five set quarterfinal at the 2014 Australian Open and in four set, final round duels at the 2015 French Open and the 2016 U.S. Open.
Wawrinka, however, is a shadow of his former self. The 38-year-old walked onto Centre Court for his third round appointment with understandably low expectations. Djokovic proceeded to pick him apart for two sets, but then Wawrinka revisited his past and managed to move through the third set and into a tie-break. Wawrinka was ahead 5-3 with the 11PM curfew looming, but Djokovic refused to miss thereafter while the Swiss faltered. Djokovic swept four points in a row to reach the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) win.
Now he took on the ever dangerous Hubert Hurkacz, a Wimbledon semifinalist two years ago and the man who handed Roger Federer his last Wimbledon loss. Hurkacz was seeded 17th this year after experiencing lackluster results most of the season. And yet, he had not lost his serve prior to his collision with Djokovic, and the 6’5” Polish competitor realized he had nothing to lose. He had never beaten his adversary in six previous career meetings.
Hurkacz served magnificently in this tense contest which started on Sunday evening and carried over into the following afternoon. The opening set went to a tie-break, and Hurkacz served consecutive aces to lead 6-3. Djokovic cagily collected the next two points and then blocked back a 130 MPH first serve from the Polish player. Hurkacz bungled a forehand approach and suddenly it was 6-6. Djokovic then used a sliced backhand to extract an error from Hurkacz before the Polish player missed a second serve return off the forehand. Five consecutive points had gone to Djokovic from triple set point down. He had taken the tie-break eight points to six.
As was the case in the first set, there were no service breaks in the second, although Djokovic was unlucky when he had a break point for 5-3. Hurkacz stabbed desperately at a volley which somehow went over the net. Djokovic chased it down but fell into the net as he made contact with the ball. In the second set tie-break, Hurkacz was once more poised for success, serving with a 5-4 lead. But he anxiously netted a backhand. Then Djokovic sent a backhand passing shot up the line for a winner for a 6-5 lead. Although Hurkacz saved a set point to make it 6-6, Djokovic was unrelenting, capturing two points in a row to secure the tie-break 8-6 and move in front two sets to love.
The curfew forced the players off the court, and so they concluded the contest the following day. The first night they had played under the roof but now they were outdoors and still Hurkacz was serving stupendously despite the sun and the wind. At 5-6 in the third set, he achieved his lone service break over the Serbian with some timely shotmaking, and so the two competitors battled into a fourth set. At long last, Djokovic found a way to break serve, making that move at 3-3. He then closed out the account with two love holds, including a pair of aces in the tenth game. Djokovic won this fiercely fought encounter 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (8-6), 5-7, 6-4.
He was now in the quarterfinals, and up against the No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev. The Russian was timing the ball beautifully in the first set, breaking Djokovic at 4-4. The set soon belonged to him 6-4. But Djokovic raised his game immediately at the start of the second, surging to a 5-0 lead. He took that set 6-1. He then served for the third set at 5-4 in a pulsating game featuring six deuces. Rublev had three break points before Djokovic sealed the game on his fifth set point. Djokovic was out in front to stay. He broke Rublev at 1-1 in the fourth set and took 16 of 19 points on serve. With Rublev serving at 3-5, the 25-year-old missed all five first serves. Djokovic refused to let him get away with it and wrapped up the victory 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. This was a high quality contest. Rublev put an awful lot of returns in play and his backhand has never been better. But he lost to a better craftsman and match player.
In the penultimate round, Djokovic took on No. 8 seed Jannik Sinner for only the third time. A year ago in the quarterfinals, Djokovic had rallied from two sets down to topple the Italian in five sets. This time around, the Serbian got the job done in straight sets, although all three sets were tough for the victor. Sinner was appearing in his first semifinal at a major. He had two break points in the first game, but Djokovic was unyielding and he held on. Djokovic pounced in the second game. He broke for 2-0 by unleashing a deep return that set up a scorching forehand which drew an error from Sinner. Djokovic protected that break sedulously, fending off another break point on his way to 4-1 by picking on the Sinner forehand again. Serving for the set at 5-3 and down 0-15, Djokovic produced three consecutive aces—all down the T—and followed with a service winner. Set to Djokovic, 6-3.
The favorite broke again for a 2-1 second set lead and then dealt calmly with two awkward moments in the fourth game. At 15-15, he grunted loudly after hitting a backhand down the line, perhaps thinking he had made a winner. But Sinner had a play on that ball. The umpire called him for a hinderance. Later, at deuce, he was given a time violation warning for taking too long between points. But he held on for 3-1. Despite squandering a great opportunity to break again when Sinner served at 2-4, 15-40, Djokovic methodically closed out that set. Serving for a two set lead at 5-4, he opened and closed that tenth game with aces and held masterfully at love to secure the set 6-4.
Across the third set, Sinner was highly impressive from the backcourt and served well under pressure. At 1-1 he rescued himself from 0-40. With Djokovic serving at 4-5, 15-40, Sinner had double set point but he could not exploit the opening. Djokovic, despite being perturbed by the crowd cheering presumably for a longer match, held on gamely for 5-5. In the ensuing tie-break, Sinner led 3-1 but double faulted. Djokovic swept six of the last seven points from that juncture to win 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) and make it to his ninth Wimbledon final.
As for Alcaraz, he opened his campaign with a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 triumph over the Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, a 36-year-old who is moving into retirement. Only once did Alcaraz lose his serve. He managed to hit 38 winners while making only 14 unforced errors.
His next assignment was against Alexandre Muller, another Frenchman who is 26 years old and ranked No. 84 in the world. Alcaraz prevailed 6-4, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 with a sporadically brilliant display. He converted only 2 of 14 break points and this time his unforced error count was 41 versus 32 winners. Be that as it may, he did not lose his serve and he took the tie-break confidently and comfortably.
On he went into a third round skirmish with the Chilean Nicolas Jarry. The No. 25 seed pushed the Spaniard close to his limits before the top seed emerged with a 6-3, 6-7 (8-6), 6-3, 7-5 win. Jarry saved a set point at 5-6 in the second set tie-break with a well executed serve-and-volley combination and then took the next two points for one set all. After Alcaraz regained the upper hand in the third set, Jarry built a 3-0 lead in the fourth set and had the Spaniard down 15-40 in the fourth game. Alcaraz avoided getting broken for a second time in the set and then rallied from 1-4 to 4-4. After Jarry reached 5-4, Alcaraz collected three games in a row to get the victory.
In the round of 16 against Matteo Berrettini, Alcaraz was tested again before carving out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win over the 2021 Wimbledon finalist who had knocked out two seeds this time around. Berrettini had accounted for No. 15 Alex De Minaur and No. 19 Sascha Zverev, defeating both men in straight sets. But after his strong start against Alcaraz, the big serving Berrettini was broken four times over the last three sets as the Spaniard improved his return game significantly.
And so Alcaraz found himself in the quarterfinals facing the No. 6 seed Holger Rune of Denmark, a fellow 20-year-old. Many in the know anticipated a long and close confrontation but that was not the case at all. Alcaraz rolled to a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4 victory without losing his serve. He took 79% of his first serve points and 71% on his second, facing only one break point and erasing it in the opening game of the match. That carried Alcaraz into a quarterfinal Centre Court showdown against No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev had been taken apart flagrantly in the final of Indian Wells by the Spaniard earlier in the season, losing that one-sided clash 6-3, 6-2.
In many ways, Alcaraz humiliated Medvedev on the California hard courts that were playing slow. Medvedev believed he would be better off on the grass against his younger rival, but that was not really so. Alcaraz got the first break of the match to move ahead 5-3 in the first set and never looked back. He blitzed to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory despite losing his serve twice in the third set. Medvedev rushed, made inexplicable unprovoked errors, did not locate his serve well at all, and seemed muddled of mind. He had no game plan and was resigned to defeat by early in the second set. Alcaraz put 80% of his returns in play, his best number in the tournament. The view here is that the match-up with Alcaraz is a nightmare for Medvedev, who has no clue how to combat his rival.
For quite a while in the quarterfinals against the surging American Chris Eubanks, Medvedev was also at a loss about how to proceed tactically. Eubanks came from a set down to take the second and third sets with his uncompromising, free-wheeling, and exhilarating brand of attacking tennis. The fourth set went to a tie-break and Eubanks made it to 3-3, standing potentially four points from a stunning victory and a place in the penultimate round of the world’s premier tennis tournament. But it all seemed to hit him then, physically and psychologically. Medvedev rallied for a 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 win. Nevertheless, it was a golden moment for Eubanks, who came into Wimbledon on the heels of a tournament win on the grass in Mallorca. The 27-year-old American had upset No. 12 seed and 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist Cam Norrie in a second round, four set contest, and he came from two sets to one down against No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas for a five set round of 16 victory. He may well be seeded at the U.S. Open, which would have been inconceivable even a few months ago.
Even a few weeks ago, it was inconceivable that Alcaraz could win Wimbledon this year given his lack of grass court experience. But triumphing at Queen’s Club gave him considerable encouragement. By the end of Wimbledon he was playing like a grass court veteran. After the first set of the final, Alcaraz varied his game exquisitely against Djokovic and made excellent use of the sliced backhand. He displayed surprising patience from the baseline and stayed in long rallies with the backcourt maestro. The bottom line is that he now can win on every surface.
Does this mean we are talking about a changing of the guard? Not so fast. Djokovic remains eager to collect more prestigious trophies. His bid for the Grand Slam this year is gone but he will be determined to win his fourth U.S. Open and 24th major in New York. He will inevitably take at least a few more majors. He had split two sets with Alcaraz at the French Open before the Spaniard got full body cramps. In their previous meeting a year ago on clay, Alcaraz prevailed 7-6 in the third set. Aside from pursuing more majors, Djokovic might well be fueled by meeting Alcaraz on more big occasions and turning the tables on this man 16 years his junior.
It may be essential for Alcaraz and Djokovic to keep developing a rivalry over the next couple of years for as long as the Serbian is still competing. There is no doubt in my mind that Alcaraz is going to win at least 15 majors in his career and perhaps more than that. In the long run he will be tested by the likes of Sinner, Rune and others in his generation. But the view here is that we need more memorable skirmishes now between Djokovic and Alcaraz. The tennis they played against each other at Wimbledon was nothing less than stupendous.
Roland Garros: Read the Shortest Editorial Ever Written by Director Ubaldo Scanagatta
This time, concluding a “historical” Roland Garros Ubitennis and its director wish to surprise its readers
by Ubaldo Scanagatta
No one more than Novak Djokovic would deserve to be the first tennis player to complete the Grand Slam, after the two achieved by Rod Laver (1962, 1969) and the first one of Don Budge (1938). I’d like to specify that what I have just claimed has nothing to do with the GOAT debate.
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