Carlos Alcaraz heralded the changing of the guard in men’s tennis as he ended Novak Djokovic’s long reign at Wimbledon with a rip-roaring 1-6, 7-6(6) 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory to win the All England Club title for the first time yesterday.
The 36-year-old Serbian had been indestructible on Wimbledon’s Centre Court for a decade, but yesterday he finally met his match as he ran out of ideas to stop young gun Alcaraz from hurtling towards the title.
After the 20-year-old had broken for a 2-1 lead in the fifth set with a stupendous passing shot winner, Djokovic’s racket felt the full force of his anger as he smashed it against the wooden net post to leave it in a mangled mess.
That earned Djokovic a second warning in the match, with the Serb also being cautioned earlier for taking too much time to launch into his serves. But all that distraction failed to throw an inspired Alcaraz off course as he became the youngest man in 37 years to win the gilded Challenge Cup after Djokovic scooped a forehand into the net, leaving the Spaniard to collapse on to his back in his moment of triumph.
It was a second major for the 20-year-old Spaniard following his US Open title last year as he became Wimbledon’s third youngest men’s champion. The result will also spark feverish speculation over the start of a generational shift, with 36-year-old Djokovic carrying the torch of the ‘Big Three’ now that Roger Federer is retired and Rafael Nadal is sidelined, perhaps permanently.
Australian Open and French Open champion, Djokovic, had been bidding to equal Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon titles and match Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 Slams.
When he won his first major at the Australian Open in 2008, Alcaraz was still three months shy of his fifth birthday. Djokovic was playing in his ninth final at Wimbledon and 35th at the majors, while for Alcaraz it was just a second in the Slams following his US Open triumph.
The Serb went into the match not having lost on Centre Court since his 2013 final defeat to Andy Murray and he hit with relentless precision in the first set. Alcaraz, who had been crippled by body cramping in his loss to Djokovic in the French Open semifinal in June, was unable to settle and let a break point slip away in the seven-minute opening game.
Djokovic took advantage and raced into a 5-0 lead on the back of a double break before the Spaniard got on the board. It was too little, too late as Djokovic claimed the opening set with a smash. But Alcaraz finally freed himself of his shackles and broke for 2-1 in the second set. Djokovic hit straight back in the third game before saving a break point in the fourth, coming out on top of a 29-shot rally.
The Serb was hit with a time violation in the tie-break before seeing a set point saved. Alcaraz needed no second invitation when he carved out and converted a set point to level the contest with a backhand winner.
The marathon set had taken 85 minutes as Djokovic’s run of 15 tie-breaks won in a row at the majors ended. Alcaraz broke in the opening game of the third set and again after an exhausting 26-minute fifth game, which went to 13 deuces and saw Djokovic save six break points before he cracked on the seventh.
Alcaraz backed it up with a rapid-fire service game which took just two minutes in comparison and broke again against the dispirited defending champion to move two sets to one ahead.
Djokovic argued with umpire Fergus Murphy over his monitoring of the shot clock and did little to endear himself with the crowd by taking a lengthy toilet break before the fourth set.
However, the break worked wonders as the Serb broke twice in the set, levelling the final courtesy of Alcaraz’s seventh double fault of the final. Djokovic wasted a golden chance to break for 2-0 in the decider with a wild smash and Alcaraz made him pay, breaking for 2-1.
A frustrated Djokovic collected another code violation for destroying his racquet against the net post before he slipped 3-1 down. Alcaraz was not to be denied and he claimed a famous victory when Djokovic buried a forehand in the net.