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.
COMMENT: Is A Happy Carlos Alcaraz Too Good To Be True?
Carlos Alcaraz has put fun back into professional tennis.
Even the stoic Novak Djokovic has been taken by the fun times. Instead of frowning when Alcaraz comes up with one of his amazing winners, Novak releases a broad smile that turns his bearded face into a fan-winning appeal.
Who would have thought that Novak would become such a fan favorite in his old age as he attracts even Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal fans, and maybe some Alcaraz lovers. That last one may be difficult to believe, considering the almost cult-like following of Alcaraz.
OPPONENTS EVEN JOIN CARLOS’ FUN
It’s the boyish smile that Carlos uses to so easily lure tennis fans into his fan base. Opponents even join the fun when Alcaraz puts on another amazing stunt on the court, or sometimes while sliding to hit a winner off what looked like a sure winner by his opponents.
Even British star Daniel Evans couldn’t ignore the exuberance of Alcaraz in their third-round match at the U.S. Open. Alcaraz comes up with another one of his amazing shots to win a point, and Evans breaks into an ear-to-ear smile. Everyone is happy.
Yes, Carlos Alcaraz is almost too good to be true.
ALCARAZ FILLS THE GAP LEFT BY FEDERER AND NADAL
Yes, the amazing 20-year-old Spaniard gives tennis the bump it needs in the new generation of players after the Federer, Nadal and Djokovic heydays. Of course, Djokovic is still trying to add to his record-setting number of Grand Slam titles.
Djokovic is still very dangerous. It could be a spectacular final if Novak and Alcaraz could work their way into another Grand Slam final as they did at Wimbledon.
Of course, even after taking much of the fire out of Alexander Zverev in straight sets in the quarterfinals, Alcaraz isn’t home free yet. Not with former champion Daniil Medvedev standing in his path in Friday’s semifinals before a possible showdown with Djokovic.
WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S SIDE OF THINGS?
It’s anyone’s guess which semifinalist will walk off with the women’s crown on Saturday.
The only Grand Slam champion left, Australian Open champ and new world’s No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka, is in the bottom half of the draw, and must take on red-hot Madison Keys in Thursday’s semifinals.
Wimbledon titlist Marketa Vondrousova didn’t provide much of a test for 2017 U.S. Open finalist Keys in a 6-4, 6-1 loss in the quarterfinals. As good as Keys has been lately, Sabalenka will be difficult to handle.
That leaves young Coco Gauff or French runner-up Karolina Muchova as the other possible finalist. Sabalenka appears to be too strong and aggressive, not to mention talented, for the other three semifinalists.
Where’s French champion Iga Swiatek or high-ranked Jessica Pegula? Of course, both were wiped out in the round of 16, Pegula by Keys and Swiatek by unpredictable Jelena Ostapenko.
That leaves the gate wide open for Sabalenka’s fourth straight Grand Slam semifinal.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
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.
WIMBLEDON: An immense Alcaraz, but the changing of the guard is yet to come…
Alcaraz’s merits compared with Djokovic’s demerits. Just a bad day among many so-so days for the Serbian, nonetheless No. 2 of the ATP ranking? Or is it the start of an inexorable decline? Farewell to the Grand Slam, but will he win more Majors?
NOTE: This article was written in Italian and has been Translated by Carla Montaruli
Carlitos Alcaraz triumphed, cheers for Carlitos Alcaraz. The feat he accomplished at only 20 years of age and in his fourth tournament on grass is remarkable, remarkable indeed. He is the third youngest champion ever after 17-year-old Becker and 20-year-old Borg, as well as the third Spaniard after Santana and Nadal to win the trophy. Being able to beat a player in the fifth set after 4 hours and 43 minutes who is the king of marathons, a seven-time champion and had won 45 straight matches over the last 10 years on Centre Court, can only be considered a great exploit.
Credit where credit is due. Alcaraz played beautiful tennis, complete in all aspects, bold forehands and backhands, powerful and hit on the rise, drop-shots, acrobatic and diving volleys, hanging smashes, aces and winning serves. All this with great mental solidity displayed throughout the entire match: after losing the first set badly, enduring the tension of a second set tiebreak which had not started well for him, then dominating the third set and finally closing the encounter as a consummate veteran in the fifth with a last service game played brilliantly after tenaciously defending very well the break he had secured in the third game of the final set.
A 20-year-old young man could not be asked for more. A well-deserved applause and congratulations also for defending that first place in the world rankings that he will hold for the twenty-ninth week, hoping to keep it as long as possible.
Staying at the top for 389 weeks like the extraordinary champion he beat on Sunday would mean dominating the world stage for over seven years. Over seven years! And…as I write this I wonder if we have paid enough attention to such a feat in all that time!
Yes, because you write 310 weeks, Federer’s weeks as world No.1, then you write 389, that is Djokovic’s weeks spent in the same spot: there and then they seem like just numbers…but only when you divide them by 52, the weeks in a year, do you realize the immensity of these extended dominances within a sport whose growing competitiveness and many booming young guns are emphasized almost every day.
Crazy in the case of both Federer and Djokovic with the ATP scepter in their hands, because each of them – as the fourth part of the Fab Four – had to confront at least with the other three. All four have been world number one. Still, for 699 weeks, almost 13 years and a half, Roger and Nole were number one, Nadal was king for 209 weeks and Murray for 41. Add them up and that’s another five years—eighteen years of reign for four kings. Written so many times off the top of my head…but upon reflection this is impressive stuff. It never remotely happened before.
So here it is… the idea that Carlitos Alcaraz could one day – but we are talking about seven years! – reach Djokovic’s 389-week reign today may seem unreal, absolutely far-fetched.
But…are there perhaps three more champions on the horizon who can recreate a quartet of phenomena like the Fab Four? I don’t see them at all. Will Alcaraz be alone in the driver’s seat for the next few years?
In seven years, 10 or 18 – 18 years was the reign of the Fab Four — phenoms could sprout up almost like mushrooms! Speculating on what will happen in such a long and far away period is a mindless divertissement and I don’t know why it dawned on me…. Except perhaps Holger Rune today – though greatly downgraded by the last duel here at Wimbledon – there doesn’t seem to be a rival of Alcaraz’s caliber right now. Our compatriots may see our Sinner two steps below Alcaraz and one step below Rune, but neither do they see other “prospects” ahead of him. Djokovic called Sinner one of the leaders of the new generation. His fifth place in the Race, along with eighth in ATP ranking certify such status.
But then for a year or two, or maybe even three, if Rune and Sinner don’t make giant strides, or if a new rising star doesn’t emerge, Carlitos Alcaraz could easily add a hundred or more weeks to the 29 he has already earned as No. 1.
Or am I venturing into a wild prediction?
Just not to present you with a single scenario I want to say, however, that the most obvious commonplace one could come up with today, after this final that Djokovic shall not cease to regret for at least four reasons – three missed backhands in the tiebreak and a clumsy drive volley which squandered a hard-earned break point for a 2-0 lead in the decider – is that we have witnessed the changing of the guard.
It will make so many headlines, sure. I may have uttered it too, in one of the many videos I did for Ubi Instagram, for Ubitennis, and the IntesaSanPaolo website. But in my opinion, it’s not true yet.
Djokovic is not ready to retire. He is not going to quit, even if the dream of achieving a Grand Slam has vanished, maybe forever. Farewell to Grand Slam, but will he win more Majors? I think so. He is still world No. 2, isn’t he?
I had written throughout the tournament – you may check – that I didn’t think I had seen the best Djokovic. He had not been at his best against Hurkacz or even Rublev. And, as much as many readers disagreed, neither had he dominated Sinner as he had last year in the last three sets when he had been truly unplayable. Demerit to him and credit to Sinner, as often happens simultaneously.
I wrote that Hurkacz had thrown the first set out of the window and when leading 5-4 in the tiebreak of the second with two serves at disposal to put it away he had not been faultless but had shown a lack of personality. I also wrote that Rublev had been unlucky in the fourth set on the occasion of some break points he had failed to convert.
We did not see the best Djokovic, in my opinion, even in the final against Alcaraz. Otherwise, he would have been two sets up.
Oh yes, come on: the three backhand errors he made in the first tiebreak he lost after 15 won were not errors from Djokovic, the champion who has always played the crucial pointsbetter than anyone else, certainly better than Federer and Murray, perhaps equal to Nadal.. In particular, match points aside – what about that, dear Roger? – those tiebreaks that are said to be worth double.
Those three backhands, a drop shot at 3-2 when he was a minibreak ahead, the one at 6-5 and setpoint after he had deftly returned Carlitos’ serve, the one at 6-6 were errors worthy of a Hurkacz, a Norrie or a Shapovalov, not a Djokovic!
I recall – just quoting from memory because I haven’t time to engage in dutiful and thorough research – that Nole’s record in best-of-five matches after winning the first set is monstrous. Imagine after winning the first two sets.
Here, a Nole in ordinary form, even against that very inspired Alcaraz, would have started the third set with a two-set lead.
I know that with ifs and buts, you don’t go anywhere. But I’m pretty sure – and I think Nole is too – that if the two sets lead never came into being, it was more because of Nole’s demerit than Carlitos’ merit.
But is this a random demerit, due to a bad day and a series of bad days as it appeared to me throughout the tournament, or is it a sign of the slow inexorable decline of the Serbian who is beginning to come to terms with his age? That drive volley with which he dissipated the all-important break point and the chance to rise 2-0 in the fifth set was another topical moment. Yet, it was not Novak to succeed in a decisive breakthrough, but Carlos three minutes later.
The fury with which, at the changeover, Nole smashed his racket on the net post is revealing. Nole had missed the train to victory and, experienced as he is, he understood it.
I would say that this casual contingent demerit or signal of inexorable decline is the discriminating point of our debate.
Bravo, bravo to Alcaraz for taking advantage of it with precocious maturity, but did Djokovic stumble over a mediocre day by chance, because it can happen to everyone, even to younger tennis players, or because even he – an extraordinary phenomenon – is on that rickety path where age starts taking its toll?
If the most plausible answer we believe in is the first one – and that is the one I believe in – we cannot yet speak of a changing of the guard.
Djokovic can safely return to the throne of tennis, perhaps win the US Open and/or the next ATP Finals in Turin as well as an 11th Australian Open. Push the undoubtedly great Alcaraz back to second place.
If, on the other hand, the right answer is the second, this Wimbledon definitely enshrines the changing of the guard. But, even in this scenario, only the changing of the guard at the top and the handover between Djokovic and Alcaraz. Not a generational changing of the guard though, at least for now and the very near future, because even a subdued and slightly tarnished Djokovic is stronger than Rune, Sinner, and Tsitsipas on almost any surface. At worst he would be the second-best tennis player in the world. The others, Sinner included, would do anything to stand where he stands.
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