CARLOS Alcaraz heralded the changing of the guard in men’s tennis as he ended Novak Djokovic’s long reign at Wimbledon with a rip-roaring 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory to win the All England Club title for the first time yesterday.
The 36-year-old Serbian had been indestructible on Wimbledon’s Centre Court for a decade but finally met his match as he ran out of ideas to stop young gun Alcaraz from hurtling towards the title in the grasscourt major.
After the 20-year-old had broken for a 2-1 lead in the fifth set with a stupendous passing shot winner, Djokovic’s racket felt the full force of his anger as he smashed it against the wooden net post to leave it in a mangled mess. That earned the Serbian a second warning in the match, with Djokovic having also been cautioned earlier for taking too much time to launch into his serves.
The distraction failed to throw Alcaraz off course as he became the youngest man since 18-year-old Boris Becker in 1986 to win the Challenge Cup after Djokovic scooped a forehand into the net, leaving the Spaniard to fall on his back in triumph.
“It’s a dream come true for me. It’s great to win ... making history in this beautiful tournament,” world number one Alcaraz said as he cradled the trophy during the presentation ceremony. To sum up what it meant to play a part in a match billed as the “collision of generations” Alcaraz then paid tribute to his victim, who had won the last four Wimbledon men’s titles.
“I have to congratulate Novak. It’s amazing to play against him. You inspire me. (When) I was born, you were winning tournaments.” Second seed Djokovic, who won his first ATP title when Alcaraz was three years old, looked well on his way to winning a men’s record-equalling eighth Wimbledon crown when he blew away his rival in the opening set.
Playing in front of James Bond actor Daniel Craig, Djokovic must have thought he had left his 20-year-old rival shaken and stirred as he scorched into a 5-0 lead in the blink of an eye. But once Alcaraz had managed to loosen his limbs and register his name on the scoreboard after 32 minutes, the contest the world was waiting to see finally came alive.
Showing he was ready and waiting to tame the man he had described as “physically a beast; mentally a beast” in the run up to the final, the Spaniard broke for the first time for a 2-0 lead in the second. But Djokovic is not known for being a human backboard for nothing and, with so much riding on this result – the Serbian was also looking to draw level with Margaret Court’s all-time record haul of 24 majors – he let out a mighty roar that shook Centre Court when he broke back in the next game.
That got the adrenaline pumping through both players as they were soon caught up exchanging brutal strokes in a breathtaking 29-shot rally that ended with Alcaraz firing a backhand long. With the fans hollering after every Alcaraz winner, and the Serbian’s errors, a defiant Djokovic cupped his ear urging the crowd to show him a bit of respect.
The second set was dripping with drama as Djokovic was left slipping and sliding time and again as he tried to cope with a feast of Alcaraz dropshots that kept coming his way. At 3-3, Djokovic was left rolling on the turf after he stumbled over while chasing down one such effort. Although he managed to get the ball over the net, he was still lying flat on his back and could only watch in awe as the ball came back into his half of the court after Alcaraz volleyed a winner with almost his back to the net.
The cheering crowd leapt to their feet to salute the young pretender who was starting to feel more and more at home on the slick surface as he looked to end Djokovic’s incredible 34-match winning streak on the most famous stage tennis has to offer. With neither player daring to blink, the set rolled into a tiebreak where Djokovic was left quietly fuming on the baseline at 4-5 down after getting a time violation warning from umpire Fergus Murphy for taking more than the allowed 25 seconds.
Two points later the Serbian stood on the cusp of grabbing a two-sets-to-love lead but it was not meant to be. Instead, Alcaraz was saluted by the roaring crowd as he produced a blazing down the line service return to win one of the highest quality sets seen at this year’s championships. “I thought I’d have trouble with you only on clay and hard courts but maybe not on grass but now it’s a different story from this year obviously. Congrats.
Amazing way to adapt to the surface,” Djokovic told his conqueror. “You played maybe once or twice before this year’s Wimbledon on grass and it’s amazing just what you did.”