How Carlos Alcaraz tamed the ‘lion’ Novak Djokovic and was crowned Wimbledon champion

Over the course of more than a decade, 45 players have failed to beat Novak Djokovic on center court. The last to officiate was Andy Murray, in the Wimbledon final on July 7, 2013.

For 34 consecutive matches, the Serb has not lost on any of the venues in the All England Club, lifted the trophy in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022 (the event was not played in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic), and reached the final this year.

Prior to that match on Sunday, Djokovic had won a ridiculous 60 of the 65 sets he played in major slam events in 2023. He also won the last 15 sets in those three tournaments.

Oh, and there was the little matter of Grand Slam titles in his locker and everything those experiences taught him.

But on Sunday, he succumbed to a tiebreaker and lost three sets – and with it the loss of the Wimbledon title.

Carlos Alcaraz is different.

Different from all those players who tried and failed to stop Djokovic here, and different from anyone who came before him. You don’t need to trust me with that; I’ll pass you to Djokovic.

“To be honest, I’ve never played a player like him.”

Ranked number one in the world at 19 after winning the US Open last year, Alcaraz was the youngest player to reach the top of the world rankings and, at just 20 years old, remains the youngest player to break into the top 50. Wimbledon champion since tennis became professional in 1968, after Boris Becker (1985) and Bjorn Borg (1976).

BC (before Carlos), no player since Djokovic’s birth in May 1987 has won the men’s Wimbledon title.

In the previous 78 times Djokovic has taken the first set of a match at Wimbledon, he has gone on to win.

not today.

So, how did Alcaraz tame the player he called a “lion” ahead of Sunday’s final?

Well, he did serve Djokovic, for starters – definitely from the second set on. The defending champions faced as many break points in the final (19), as they did in the rest of the tournament combined. Alcaraz broke serve five times over five sets, after Djokovic dropped just three service matches in six matches en route to the main event.

(Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The most painful break for Djokovic will be the fifth game of the third set. After one break already, Alcaraz didn’t give up in a massive 26-minute match that included 32 points and seven break points.

The Spaniard has 66 wins compared to 32 for Djokovic, including in close moments.

What about unforced errors, I hear you ask? Well, he only hit five more than his opponent (45 to 40), so it wasn’t like he was overly reckless either. He often talks about playing aggressively – this was touching, controlled aggression.

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The speed with which Alcaraz mastered the lawn is simply ridiculous. He had only played three tournaments on it before this Wimbledon. On his two previous visits here he had never made it past the fourth round, and now he won the damn thing – against a player who looked unbeatable on that surface. Alcaraz has played 12 matches on grass this summer, at Queen’s and Wimbledon, winning all 12 of his matches.

So, what has changed? Increasing his playing time at Queen’s and Wimbledon will certainly help. “Every time I go out on the field it gets better for me,” he said after winning a warm-up event in west London last month. “I’m getting more experience, and that’s really important on this surface.”

Alcaraz became more familiar with the low, sometimes elusive bounce, and managed to transfer his speed from the clay and hard courts of the game to the grass. This has proven to be key during his title-winning run here. His movement is very measured and purposeful, and he rarely seemed to finish off a point due to his confidence and speed of recovery.

(Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Two months into his teens, he is as good on grass as he is on clay and hard courts. Djokovic, 36, nodded to it on center court after the match: “I thought I would get in trouble with you on hard court and on clay but not on grass…”

And then the deposed hero expanded on that. “I have to say he surprised me. He surprised everyone with how quickly he has adapted to grass this year. He hasn’t had a lot of wins on grass in the two years he’s played.

“I think Quinn helped him a lot. He was close to losing that opener in Queens (Alcaraz needed all three sets to beat World No. 82 Arthur Renderneck 4-6, 7-5, 7-6). Then he started picking up momentum, more and more wins. Against really good players.

“The Wimbledon courts are slower than the Oranje (the courts of this tournament) or perhaps the Queen’s courts. It is more suitable, I think, for pasleys like him.

“I have to say the slides, the kind of choppy returns, the pure play; it’s impressive. I didn’t expect him to play so well this year on the grass, but he has proven to be the best player in the world without a doubt.

“He plays some great tennis on different surfaces and deserves to be where he is.”

when asked before the athlete Earlier in the tournament what was the toughest thing about Djokovic facing Alcaraz, who he lost to in four sets a month earlier in French Open semi-finalist said: “Well, the pressure. I would say the pressure it puts on everyone — not just me, but everyone — to play at their best for about three hours at a Grand Slam.

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“I have to deal with that, but it’s something I really want. I hope to play a final here against him. For me, that’s probably the hardest thing for Novak.”

On Sunday, Alcaraz liked to finish in three hours. In fact, they wrestled for four hours, and then another 42 minutes. But that pressure he had spoken of earlier in the two weeks certainly did not reach him.

“Thanks to Carlos,” said Djokovic. “Amazing poise in important moments. For someone of his age to deal with nerves like that, playing attacking tennis, closing the game the way he did… I thought I came back really well in the last game, but he was just coming up with some incredible, amazing shots.”

One of the best examples of that poise and grit came in the second set tiebreaker. With the center court crowd chanting his name before the deciding point, the Spaniard parried an infamous backhand past Djokovic to a one-set tie. The atmosphere was charged with clapping, and he put his finger to his ear as he walked to his seat.

He then kept that momentum going, and promptly broke Djokovic in the opener of the third set, which put him in great position by then. that The game happened.

The entire first set took 34 minutes. The fifth game of the third set lasted 26. Alcaraz broke again and took a 4-1 lead. After his investment of winning that game, the rest of the group felt like a formality. The 6-1 score that Djokovic inflicted is not uncommon. In his 71 grand slam career, it has only happened 13 times.

The fourth set was one to forget for Alcaraz, as Djokovic won 6-3, but regrouped in the fifth and was now fully locked out. There were some forehand shots to keep a 1-0 deficit and in the next game, he broke courtesy of three winners. Then he held on to love at 3-1, ending that match with a header. He did the same in the end service matches going 4-2 and 5-3. Then there were two great winners while he served in the match.

The preacher kept his head down when those around him were losing their heads. In particular, two moments stand out. Djokovic backhanded home at set point in the second-set tiebreak. Then, a later point, another poor backhand into the net gave Alcaraz a break point. He did the job duly.

“I would say the tie-breaker in the second[was my biggest regret in the match],” Djokovic said. “The backhand let me down, to be honest. The set point, I missed the backhand. He played a backhand that was way too long down the court, and he bounced around a bit. But I shouldn’t have missed that shot.”

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Then at 6-6, again, another backhand from mid court into the net. Just two very bad backhands. That’s it. The game turned on his side. He turned around. He raised his level a lot in the third. I wasn’t myself for some the time “.

There was also a hugely missed blow when Djokovic had a 1-0 break point in the final set.

“I was able to regroup and pick up momentum halfway through the fourth. I felt like the momentum shifted to my side. That was my chance (driving ball early in the fifth). That pit stop, I think I played a really good point, kind of Preparation for volleyball.

“It was very, very windy today. The wind kind of took it to an awkward spot where I couldn’t hit the putt, and I had to kind of hit a falling flyball. I saw him run perfectly to the opposite corner. I kind of wanted to miss his foot with that volley.” And I missed it.”

(Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Alcaraz broke in the next game, then served in the match and the tournament. The break of serve that followed his miss so enraged Djokovic that he wrapped his racket around the goal post.

Sometimes in Center Court, it was like the Spider-Man meme – Djokovic must have felt like he was playing against himself. There were similar shots, similar moves, I’ll never-neverStop mentality.

“I think people have been talking the last 12 months or so about Carlos’ match made up of certain elements of Roger (Federer), Rafa (Nadal) and me. I’d agree with that. I think he basically got the best of all three worlds,” Djokovic said. “.

“He has that mental resilience and real maturity for a 20-year-old. It’s impressive. He has the Spanish bull mentality of competitiveness, fighting spirit and incredible defense that we’ve seen with Rafa over the years.

“And I think he has some nice backhands that he has some similarities to backhands. Yeah, the backhands, the defense, the adaptability. I think that’s been my strength for many years. He has him too.

(Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

“I’ve never played a player like him before, to be honest. Roger and Rafa have their strengths and weaknesses. Carlos is a very complete player. Amazing adaptive abilities that I think are key to longevity and a successful career on all surfaces.”

Is this a changing of the guard? We’ll see, I definitely felt an intense tremor while sitting on center court and watching Alcaraz run up and down Djokovic and walk away with the Wimbledon trophy.

(Top photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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