King Carlos dethrones Novak Djokovic to win his maiden Wimbledon title and underline the arrival of tennis’ new era
Carlos Alcaraz snaps Djokovic’s 45 match-winning streak on Centre Court, beating the Serb for the first time there in more than ten years
There are certain moments in this sport that define the direction of the narrative for decades to come.
The Men’s final at Wimbledon 2008 was one of those moments.
Fifteen years later, in a final that contained strong echoes of that great match, Carlos Alcaraz has opened up a new chapter in the tennis history books by repeating another Spaniard’s great victory of the past.
The young pretender has once again toppled the undisputed king.
This time, it is a 20-year-old man from Murcia who has beaten the four-time defending champion from Belgrade to lift his first Wimbledon title.
But it was never going to come easily.
A baptism of fire for Alcaraz
The first set was a chastening affair for the Spaniard.
The weight of the occasion was clearly having an impact on his tennis, while Djokovic came flying out of the blocks as he embraced a situation he has always relished.
Despite Alcaraz earning an early break point opportunity in the opening game, Djokovic snuffed it out with some impressive serving before going on to break in the second game. Finding himself 0-40 down on his serve, Alcaraz saved two of those break points, before hitting a forehand long at 30-40 to hand Novak the early break.
Despite another early challenge to his serve in the third game, including an entertaining rally that had the crowd gasping at 30-30, Djokovic again held serve to move 3-0 ahead.
The seven-time champion immediately applied more pressure in the fourth game, earning two break points with some typically formidable returning. Nerve and serve remained intact for the Spaniard for two of those points, before the Serb generated another opportunity, taking that break point after the Spaniard dumped a backhand into the net following relentless pressure from Djokovic.
It was a brutal start to the 20-year-old’s first Wimbledon final, as Djokovic increasingly upped his intensity in that first set, holding serve again for a 5-0 lead in just 28 minutes.
Alcaraz’s flamboyant play came out in the sixth game as he steadied the ship with an impressive hold, one constructed out of some beautiful shot-making. At 5-1, he was finally on the board.
But rock-solid serving ensured there were no difficulties for the Serb as he served out the first set to take it 6-1 in just 34 minutes, hitting only two unforced errors in that first stanza.
Centre Court was shell-shocked.
Alcaraz rallies in the second set
A confident hold at the start of the second set immediately got Alcaraz off to a better start than in the first.
Things got even better for the Spaniard in the next game as sustained pressure on the Serb’s serve earned Alcaraz a first break of the match after 48 minutes of play. There was a sense that this year’s Wimbledon showpiece had finally sprung into life.
But the indefatigable defence of Novak Djokovic once again proved too high a wall to climb, as the Serb broke straight back.
As Djokovic’s first-serve percentage dropped, Alcaraz looked to pounce again, earning himself a break back point. But a lung-busting rally went the way of the Serb at 30-30, and with it the game, as parity was restored at 2-2.
The rest of the second set was in stark contrast to the first. A high-quality, elongated affair that lasted for 85 minutes saw both men bring the very best out of each other.
It felt destined to be settled by a tiebreak.
A tiebreak it was.
Djokovic’s success rate in tiebreaks is extraordinary, having won the last 15 he’d played at a Grand Slam. Winning a breaker against the Serb is an ominous task for anyone at the best of times, let alone to draw level in your maiden Wimbledon final.
But Carlos Alcaraz is not just anyone.
Despite falling 3-0 down early on, the Spaniard was able to maintain composure to restore parity at 3-3.
A time violation at 4-5 down for Djokovic only added to an already tense and highly-charged tiebreak, the drama reaching fever pitch when Alcaraz saved a set point on his serve before racing to the finish line as Djokovic attempted a serve-and-volley at 6-7 down, only for the Spaniard to roll a perfectly-weighted passing backhand shot into the space behind the Serb to level the match at one set apiece.
Centre Court erupted.
Mammoth game proves pivotal in thrilling third set
If anyone expected a drop in intensity at the start of the third after such a pulsating finish to the second, it certainly never came.
Alcaraz backed up his tiebreak victory by breaking Djokovic in the first game to nudge ahead for the first time in the match, before holding serve to move 2-0 clear.
Djokovic had two break point opportunities in the fourth game, but Alcaraz successfully kept the Serb at bay.
What followed was a simply extraordinary fifth game, one that included thirteen deuces and lasted well over 20 minutes. As the tension ratcheted up, Djokovic remonstrated with the umpire as some uncharacteristic unforced errors began to creep into the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s game.
The pair see-sawed between game points and break points as both players refused to relinquish a pivotal game.
After a truly epic tussle that included a total of 32 points, Alcaraz finally took it on his seventh break point to move into a crucial and commanding lead in the third set.
From there, Alcaraz put his foot on the accelerator, breaking an evidently fatigued Djokovic for a third time that set to take the third 6-1.
Alcaraz’s intensity drops in fourth set as Novak fights back
Djokovic saved two break points in his opening service game of the fourth, as Alcaraz looked to use the momentum of the previous set to make an early move.
But the Serb’s renowned ability to hold firm and fight when his back is against the wall once again came to the fore.
Holding serve, he then exerted extreme pressure on the Spaniard’s own serve in the fifth game, eventually making the breakthrough at the third time of asking to gain a fourth-set advantage.
The rest of the set went on serve, until a loose game from Alcaraz at 5-3 handed the world No. 2 another break, and with it, the fourth set.
A fifth and final stanza was required.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man as Carlos Alcaraz takes the fifth
Both men held serve by fending off early break points in each of their opening games in the decider.
But it was Alcaraz who made what turned out to be the decisive move, breaking Djokovic following a mesmerising rally of sheer brilliance in which both players pulled each other across every dimension of the court. At one stage, the Serb was on his haunches, before recovering to maintain position in the rally. Yet it was the Spaniard who won the point, passing Djokovic with a backhand winner down the line – with it, the break.
Djokovic, often quick to vent his anger when challenged in matches, destroyed his racket against the net post, earning a deserved code violation for his efforts.
All went on serve until the end, but Alcaraz was pushed to the very final ball. Finding himself once again in a tricky position at 30-30, the Spaniard held on to move to championship point.
In what will no doubt already be a blur to the young man, Alcaraz pushed Djokovic out wide with a powerful forehand.
Despite the Serb’s incredible elasticity and a career built on an immovable defence, the retrieval was beyond him.
Carlos Alcaraz had won.
A Spanish successor is found
Alcaraz becomes only the third male Spanish player to win Wimbledon after Manuel Santana Martínez and a certain Rafael Nadal.
“It’s a dream come true for me. I said before it so good to win but even if would have lost I would be really proud of myself,” he said in his winner’s speech on court.
“Making history in this beautiful tournament, playing a final against a legend of the sport. It’s a dream come true.
“It was unbelievable to play in these stages. It’s amazing for a boy – 20 years-old – I didn’t expect to reach this situation really fast.
“I am really proud of myself, I am really proud for the team and the work we put in every day to be able to lift this. After the first set I thought ‘Carlos, increase the level. Everyone would be disappointed.’”
Djokovic gracious – and emotional – in defeat
Djokovic, meanwhile, had a 297 – 5 winning record in Grand Slam matches when he’d won the first set – prior to today’s match.
He’d also never lost a match at Wimbledon after winning the first set, other than a retirement against Nadal in 2007.
It will be a desperately bitter pill for the Serb to swallow, yet he was – as always – very gracious in defeat.
“I have to start with praises to Carlos and his team. What a quality at the end of the match when you had to serve it out. You can up with some big plays in the big situation and you absolutely deserve it. Amazing,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
“I thought I would have trouble with you only on clay and hard court, but not on grass but now it’s a different story from this year obviously.
“Congrats, amazing way to adapt to the surface. You played maybe one or twice. Amazing, what you did in Queens and congratulations to everybody in your team.”
Djokovic then became emotional as he addressed his son in the crowd.
“It’s nice to see my son still there, still smiling. I love you, thank you for supporting me and we can all have a big hug, and love each other. Thank you.”
A new dawn in tennis has arrived
The 23-time Grand Slam champion has had many glorious days at SW19. On this showing, there will be a few more to come yet.
But today was not his day.
16th July 2023 belongs to Carlitos Alcaraz.
Despite having won the US Open already, and being the youngest men’s world No. 1 in history, there was always a question mark over whether the torch had truly passed.
This was purely down to the fact that he had yet to prove himself against the very best on the biggest stage of them all.
Today, Alcaraz has done just that, and in truly majestic style.
This match was an utterly scintillating exhibition of all-out attack versus impenetrable defence. The phrase, ‘when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object’ comes to mind.
While Djokovic is not going anywhere fast, and will continue to push this young man for as long as he possibly can, the tides of change are now officially upon us.
Tennis has a new world order – and at the very top, sits Carlos Alcaraz.