There can be no doubt now that Carlos Alcaraz is at the start of an exceptional career in tennis and could well surpass the man he dethroned as Wimbledon champion, Novak Djokovic, in the coming decade.
Probably before this match, I thought that I wasn’t ready to beat Djokovic in five sets, an epic match like this. Stay good physically or good mentally about five hours against a legend, probably I learned about myself today. Carlos Alcaraz
His 1-6 7-6(6) 6-1 3-6 6-4 victory over the man who has reigned supreme and unbeaten on Centre Court for the past ten years, crushed his hopes of a calendar grand slam and has, for the moment at least, dashed his record equalling attempt to match Margaret Court’s 24 grand slam victories.
“Feels great,” Alcaraz said after the four-hour, 42-minute battle. “It’s a dream come true for me, being a Wimbledon champion, something that I really wanted. Honestly, I didn’t expect to get it really soon. Yeah, it’s time to enjoy and share everything, all my feelings.
“Is the happiest moment of my life, that’s for sure. Probably in five years will change. Right now, I’m 20, I didn’t live too many situations like this, so I’m going to enjoy this moment,” he said.
“Making history that I did today, it’s, yeah, the happiest moment of my life. I think it’s not going to change for a long time. Yeah, like beating Novak, winning Wimbledon championship is something that I dream about since I start to playing tennis. That’s why is the biggest moment of my life.”
At 36 years of age, Djokovic has established an incredible record which is well known for Alcaraz, at 20, to target and it will be fascinating to follow his journey over the coming years.
He has become the youngest champion at Wimbledon since Boris Becker won it for a second time aged 18 in 1986.
“I’ve won some epic finals that I was very close to losing. Maybe this is kind of a fair-and-square deal I guess to lose a match like this for me here. Even though it hurts, it’s never easy to lose a close match,” Djokovic said following the end of his 45-match winning streak on Centre Court.
“Credit to Carlos. Amazing poise in the important moments. For someone of his age to handle the nerves like this, be playing attacking tennis, and to close out the match the way he did.
“I thought I returned very well that last game, but he was just coming up with some amazing, amazing shots.”
But as the score suggests, it was never clear cut who would emerge top in the battle of the top two seeds where the winner would either retain or regain the top spot in the world rankings.
Early on, it looked like Djokovic was on his way to an all-time record-tying 24th Major as he swept aside his nervous challenger saving early break points to confidently snatch the opening set after 31-minutes for the loss of just one game,
And much like at Roland Garros in their last meeting, Alcaraz regained his composure and focus to stay with the Serb, trading breaks early and nearly gaining a 3-1 lead which Djokovic saved after winning an exhausting and frantic 29-shot rally to hold two points later for 2-2.
The pair matched each other until the tiebreak and again, Djokovic got the early mini-break but lost it in the sixth point as he continued to push the boundaries of the shot-clock when serving. That practice of using up the 25-second allowed between points was frustrating for both Alcaraz and the public but perfectly legal. However, stepping up to serve at 4-5 in the tie break, he was given a ‘time violation’ warning by umpire Fergus Murphy which didn’t go down well.
Djokovic held but at 6-6 he missed two backhands as Alcaraz levelled with the match nudging the two-hour mark.
In the third Djokovic suffered an early break as Alcaraz’s confidence grew remembering that at this stage in Roland Garros a few weeks ago, the young Spaniard cramped up badly and had to retire. That was diagnosed as a bad case of nerves but there were no hints that that scenario might repeat itself,
He grabbed a 4-1 lead when he broke Djokovic in an incredible 27-minute fifth game during which Djokovic failed to convert eight game points, with Alcaraz finally securing it on his seventh break point. Djokovic also had another altercation with umpire Murphy over when the shot clock should be started as players needed time to walk to the back of the court for their towels!
With that second break, Alcaraz marched on to pull ahead by two sets-to-one with the match clock showing two-hours and 59-mnutes of play so far.
Djokovic now had to win the next two sets to retain his title and match Roger Federer’s record of eight. Not a major task for the experienced Serb who had faced similar problems before during his long career.
He decided to take a ‘comfort break’ and again made sure he used up the full seven-minutes now allowed to disrupt Alcaraz’s momentum and to some extent, it worked for he broke for a 3-2 lead to take the match into a deciding fifth set.
There Djokovic was immediately forced to save a break point as did Alcaraz in the second game but then the Spaniard did convert his next to take a 2-1 lead with an excellent backhand pass leaving a frustrated Djokovic to vent his anger, smashing his racket against the net post just in front of umpire Murphy – an act which could have had him disqualified if any element of that smashed racket had hit a ball boy standing close by! A racket abuse code violation was inevitable.
Now Alcaraz was in complete control. He had mastered the master on court and in the mind-games department and beaming broadly, enjoyed pocketing the decider and the moment he became Wimbledon champion.
“It was tough first set, honestly,” Alcaraz admitted. “But I felt that was playing great, was playing a good level. I had chances to break his serve or I was close to break his serve. I couldn’t take it. It’s a problem when you don’t take the opportunities against a legend like Novak. You have to struggle.
“But in the second set I knew that I was going to have my chances. I had to be focused. I had to stay there and waiting for my chance to be up or to be close on the score.
“After win the second set, it was really good for me because if I would have lost that set, probably I couldn’t lift the trophy. I probably could have lost in three sets, straight sets.
“I would say that gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of motivation to still going and to think that I’m able to win Novak in that stage.”
Djokovic will rue those missed chances in the second set breaker.
“I would say tiebreak in the second,” Djokovic admitted. “The backhands kind of let me down, to be honest. Set point, I missed the backhand. He did play a backhand that was quite long in the court, had a little bit of a bad bounce. But I should not have missed that shot.
“Then on 6-All, again, another backhand from middle of the court in the net. Just two very poor backhands. That’s it. The match shifted to his side. It turned around. He just raised his level so much in the third. I wasn’t myself for quite some time.”
Djokovic commended Alcaraz on how quickly he’s improved his game on grass.
“I must say the slices, the kind of chipping returns, the net play, it’s very impressive,” Djokovic said of Alcaraz. “I didn’t expect him to play so well this year on grass, but he’s proven that he’s the best player in the world, no doubt.
“He’s playing some fantastic tennis on different surfaces and he deserves to be where he is.”
Alcaraz will now go into the hard courts on a roll and as the defending US Open champion, he becomes the man to beat.
“Probably before this match, I thought that I wasn’t ready to beat Djokovic in five sets, an epic match like this,” Alcaraz said. “Stay good physically or good mentally about five hours against a legend, probably I learned about myself today.”
And the packed Centre Court crowd and the thousands crammed onto Henman Hill loved him. The chants of ‘Carlos’ often drowned those of ‘Nole’ during the match and at the end, Alcaraz received a standing ovation as he received the Trophy from the Princess of Wales.