Djokovic defeats Alcaraz in instant classic, saving MP en route to Cincinnati Masters title

Novak Djokovic has reminded the tennis world why he’s the greatest of all time, coming back from the brink against Carlos Alcaraz to win the Cincinnati Masters on Sunday

Novak Djokovic, Cincinnati Trophy, 2023 Novak Djokovic lifts the Cincinnati title trophy in 2023 © Aaron Doster/AP/SIPA

Novak Djokovic has defeated Carlos Alcaraz in one of the all-time great Masters 1000 matches, with the Serbian saving championship point to win the Cincinnati Masters 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4).

Superlatives cannot do justice to the rollercoaster of a ride that these two men took tennis fans on for three hours and 48 minutes on Sunday evening.

For a set and a half, it looked as though this match would be a non-event. Djokovic clearly struggled in the hot conditions, failing to deliver his best tennis and falling behind a set and 4-2. That is, until the 23-time Grand Slam champion dug deep and stormed back into the Cincinnati Masters final to show why he’s the greatest of all time.

“I was never in doubt that I could deliver the A game when it matters,” declared Djokovic after the match, torn shirt hanging off his body.

“This rivalry just gets better and better.”

Djokovic grabs early advantage

The first set between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic was a set of two very different halves.

With the set lasting an hour, both men were solid on serve to begin. Plenty of first serves were made, great plus-one plays executed, and two straight forward holds for each took place to open the match.

It became apparent in the fifth game, however, that while Alcaraz was blazing winners from both wings, he was also missing more of his shots than Djokovic. The Serb tightened up his play, making his opponent take all the risks to win points, leading to a myriad of errors from the Spaniard.

Off the back of this approach, Djokovic broke Alcaraz to love, striking his first winner of the match to go up 4-2.

Cincinnati heat enters the chat

Just when it looked as though the second seed would run away with the first set, the match flipped on its head.

Suddenly, Djokovic was impacted by the heat in Cincinnati, with the 36-year-old playing his first day session match on what was the hottest day of the week.

Quickly, it was Djokovic spraying errors and looking lacklustre around the court. Alcaraz broke straight back then held to love, getting the match back on serve at 4-4. A titanic ninth game that lasted seven minutes then saw Djokovic hold his serve, but only just.

The Serb wouldn’t be so lucky in his following service game, however, with the Spaniard breaking off the back of more errors, before holding to win the opening set 7-5 in an even hour.

The resurrection of Novak Djokovic

Following his collapse in the first set from 4-2 to 5-7, Novak Djokovic headed off the court for a lengthy change of clothes.

Would the break be enough to revive Djokovic’s energy in set two? Far from it.

The Serb looked genuinely unhealthy, at one stage serving three double faults in a row to give an early break to Alcaraz. With the score board reading 4-2 in favour of Carlos Alcaraz, and Djokovic recently having had his vitals checked by a doctor—really, that’s how bad he was looking—this match seemed done and dusted.

Until it wasn’t.

Somehow, Djokovic clung on. He conserved energy, barely running for half of Alcaraz’s shots and doing plenty of serve and volleying. the 36-year-old’s body language was still poor—not looking at his team, head hung between points—and yet he managed to remain only one break behind.

At 4-3 with Alcaraz serving, Djokovic found some magic, or more like Alcaraz found some errors, gifting the world No 2 a break back.

All of a sudden, he was back: having altercations with members of the crowd, gesturing for his fans to give him more encouragement, even finding the energy to give some stick to his box again. Djokovic held for 5-4, then put the heat on Alcaraz’s serve. The top seed managed to withstand, however, taking the second set to a tiebreak.

It was an incredibly tight affair, with both playing some incredible shots, and some poor ones. Novak got out to a 3-1 lead, before Alcaraz levelled, with the breaker going tit-for-tat until the Spaniard gained his first championship point at 5-6.

This match was far from over, though, as the Serb saved the championship point, then gained his own advantage, capitalising on his second set point to force a deciding set.

One of the great deciding sets of all time

After two hours, this match finally delivered what we’d all be waiting for, what we’d all been expecting: the two best players in the world, going hammer-and-tongs at each other with no holds barred.

And that’s exactly what we got, in one of the great deciding sets of all time that lasted well over an hour and a half.

Both players held their opening two games of serve, but not without some chances, with Djokovic going up 0-30 in the first game, and Alcaraz having a look on Djokovic’s first service game too. The first break point of the third set wouldn’t come until the fifth game, however, with Alcaraz saving a pair to move ahead 3-2.

After Djokovic held his own serve, the first titanic game of the deciding set emerged. Alcaraz was made to fend off four break points before his opponent finally broke through, putting Djokovic 4-3 up and two games away from the title.

Another dominant Djokovic hold saw Alcaraz serving to stay in the set, putting the Spaniard under pressure—where he thrives. Two championship points were thwarted by Alcaraz, with the 20-year-old hanging on by the skin of his teeth to force Djokovic to serve for the match.

Serving at 5-4, Djokovic would again see two championship points come and go, with a 12-minute game unfolding that Alcaraz eventually won, levelling the match at a set each and 5-5.

But the drama wasn’t even close to being over. In his next service game, Alcaraz again fended off a plethora of break points, playing inspired tennis when his tournament life was in the balance.

A tiebreaker was forced, and after three hours and 48 minutes, Novak Djokovic capitalised on his fifth championship point to win the 39th Masters 1000 title of his career.

Alcaraz vs Djokovic goes down as instant classic

After winning the match, Djokovic roared to the heavens and tore his shirt open, ecstatic at the victory.

“Crazy, honestly, I don’t know what else I can say,” the Serbian declared on-court minutes later.

“Definitely one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played in my life,” Djokovic continued. “Regardless of what category, tournament, player, this was one of the toughest.”

“From the beginning to the end, we’ve both been through so much. So many high and lows, incredible games, poor games.

“Theses are the kinds of matches and moments I continue to work for day in and day out.”

Fingers crossed we get to see a rematch in a few weeks’ time at the US Open, where Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic will be the top two seeds.

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