Alcaraz wins Wimbledon in a thrilling comeback against Djokovic
By Matthew Futterman
After years of false starts, men’s tennis finally has a proper war between the generations.
In a startling comeback that rocked the All England Club’s venerable Centre Court in London, Carlos Alcaraz, the 20-year-old Spanish star who has blitzed the sport in his brief career, pulled off the nearly impossible, beating Novak Djokovic in a Wimbledon final on the grass that the man widely recognized as the greatest ever to play the sport has long treated as his back lawn.
Down a set and struggling simply to avoid embarrassment, Alcaraz rediscovered his unique combination of speed, power and touch and figured out the subtleties of grass-court tennis in the nick of time.
He clawed his way back into the match in an epic 90-minute second set in which he was a point away from what figured to be an insurmountable two-set deficit.
He seized control of the match midway through the third set, gaining a crucial second break of Djokovic’s often unbreakable serve during a game that included 13 deuces.
He teetered in the fourth set as Djokovic, Wimbledon’s four-time defending champion and seven-time winner of the most important of tennis championships and as dangerous a player as there has ever been when facing defeat, steadied himself and rediscovered the magical footwork that has long served as the foundation of his success.
But then Alcaraz rose once more to claim victory, 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, not only overcoming Djokovic’s seemingly endless skills and talents but breaking his spirit, too.
When the momentum swung one last time, as Alcaraz cranked a backhand down the line to break Djokovic’s serve early in the fifth set, the Serb with the steeliest of minds smashed his racket on the net post. A few points before, he had frittered away his chance to seize control, swinging at a floating forehand in the middle of the court and sending it into the net. Now, just a few minutes later, the thing that has so rarely happened to him in recent years — a loss to a relative newcomer on a grand stage, especially this grand stage and with tennis history within his grasp — was happening.
For Djokovic, the 23-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion who last month finally vanquished his longtime rivals, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the loss cost him a shot at one of the few prizes he has not achieved — becoming the first man since 1969 to achieve the Grand Slam, winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single year. He was within one match of pulling off the feat two years ago. This time, at 36 years old, an age when most champions have retired to the broadcast booth, he was eight matches away, which seemed so much closer than it would for anyone else.
In the final game, Alcaraz showcased just why everyone has been making such a fuss about him for so long, finishing off Djokovic with all the sexiest weapons in his arsenal — the silky drop shot, the, the artful topspin lob, a blasting serve and one last ripping forehand that Djokovic reached for but could not lift over the net.
Alcaraz dropped to the ground and rolled over on the grass, holding his hands on his face in disbelief.
“A dream come true for me,” he said moments after taking the champion’s trophy from Catherine, the Princess of Wales. On a day that brought out A-list celebrities including actors Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig, Emma Watson and Hugh Jackman and singer Ariana Grande, King Felipe VI of Spain also watched the young Spanish player’s triumph.
“Now that I won I hope you are coming to more of my matches,” Alcaraz said to the king.
Nadal, the greatest Spanish player and the man who had dethroned another Wimbledon icon, Federer, in 2008, and one of Alcaraz’s many mentors, wrote on social media that Alcaraz had brought “immense joy” to Spanish tennis.
“A very strong hug, and enjoy the moment Champion!!!” wrote Nadal, who missed the tournament because of recent hip and abdominal surgery.
The loss forced a rare moment for Djokovic, acknowledging that on this day at least he had lost to a better player.
He had entered the match knowing how strong Alcaraz was on clay and hard courts, but thinking he still held the advantage on grass, as Alcaraz was playing just his fourth tournament on the surface and only his 13th match at Wimbledon. Djokovic was playing in his ninth final at the All England Club. Alcaraz had only played a handful of matches on Centre Court.
“A tough one to swallow,” Djokovic said of the loss, then choked back tears as he looked at his son, who was smiling at him from a courtside seat. “Thank you for supporting me,” he told his family. “I will give you a big hug and we can all love each other.”