Carlos Alcarez has ended Novak Djokovic’s remarkable Wimbledon run of success, fighting his way to a stunning 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 triumph for a first title at the grass court Grand Slam and second at the majors.
Alcaraz, 20, regrouped on Sunday from a poor first set and saved a set point in the second to win a sensational battle of the tennis generations against his 36-year-old opponent in four hours 42 minutes on first match point.
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He snapped Djokovic’s winning tiebreak run at the majors at 15 in the second set, and won an extraordinary fifth game in the third set, which lasted 26 minutes. Then he claimed the deciding break for 2-1 in the final set to deny Djokovic a fifth straight title at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
It was a strong turnaround for the Spanish youngster, who had crashed in straight sets against Djokovic in the recent French Open semifinals, overwhelmed by the occasion.
Alcaraz became the third-youngest Wimbledon champion in the Open Era which started in 1968, behind Boris Becker (17) and Bjorn Borg (20).
He retained the world number-one position ahead of Djokovic and showed that he can shine on grass, having also won the Queen’s Club tune-up event last month.
Alcaraz’s previous major title came at last year’s US Open.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Alcaraz said. “It’s great to win, but even if I would have lost, I would have been really proud of myself.
“Making history in this beautiful tournament, playing a final against a legend of our sport. I’m really, really proud of myself, the team that I have, the work that we put in every day.”
He added in the direction of Djokovic: “I started playing tennis watching you. Since I was born you were already winning tournaments. It is amazing.”
Djokovic, meanwhile, missed what would have been record-tying five Wimbledon titles in a row – eight overall there and 24 at all Grand Slams in his first Wimbledon centre court defeat since 2013.
The loss in a record 35th major final also ended his bid for a calendar year Grand Slam ahead of the US Open, having won the Australian and French Open tournaments earlier in the year.
Djokovic was graceful in defeat, saying: “It was not so good for me but good for Carlos. I thought I would have trouble against you on clay and hard court but not on grass court. What a way to adapt to the surface, amazing.
“Praise to Carlos. What quality at the end of the match. You deserve it absolutely.”
“You never like to lose matches like these but when the emotions are settled, I must still be grateful. It’s a tough one to swallow, when you are so close, but these are the moments you work for every day. I didn’t win but lost against the better player.”
After the match, Alcaraz fan Jose told Al Jazeera that the young Spaniard was “very special”.
“He’s progressed rapidly and has gone from being a junior to a Grand Slam champion in no time,” Jose told Al Jazeera.
“In Spain, we call him the heir to Rafa’s [Nadal’s] throne, but he has adapted to grass quicker than Rafa did.”
Serbian Ana, who was supporting Djokovic in the final, said he lost to a “great young player”.
“He’s better than any other young player out there, so I’m happy he won.”
As for Djokovic, she said the Serb still has enough in him to come back and compete at Wimbledon next year.
Djokovic’s fast start
Djokovic stormed into a 5-0 lead in the first set before Alcaraz finally got on the scoreboard after half an hour, making a superb passing shot on his forehand, with which he had made several unforced errors before. But it was too late to save the set.
Alcaraz was, however, finally in the match – and he went a break up for 2-0 in the second set, when Djokovic hit a forehand wide. Djokovic battled back to 2-2 in what was now a fierce duel for every point. He escaped a nasty-looking slip unharmed en route to a tiebreak where he squandered a 3-0 lead, got a time violation warning and then wasted a set point at 6-5 by hitting an easy backhand into the net.
Alcaraz took full advantage and locked the set with a stunning backhand return winner as he ended Djokovic’s run of 15 straight successful tiebreaks at the majors since losing a decisive game against Enzo Couacaud in the second round of the Australian Open.
Alcaraz kept up the pressure to break in the opening game of the third set, saved break points to go 3-1 up and then won the epic fifth game for 4-1, on his seventh break point after 13 deuces when Djokovic netted a forehand.
The rest of the set was a formality as Alcaraz went 2-1 up with another return winner.
Djokovic took a longer break than Alcarez and appeared somewhat recharged, saving two break points in the second game of the fourth and then breaking himself for 3-2 when Alcaraz put a drop shot attempt into the net. He never looked back and forced a fifth set when Alcaraz double faulted.
Break points came and went for each player at the start of the decider before Alcaraz swung the momentum in his favour again to break for 2-1 with a backhand passing shot.
Djokovic smashed his racquet against the net post in disgust to get a warning, sensing this was the deciding moment.
And indeed Alcarez did not falter and served out the match in the 10th game, wrapping up matters with a fierce forward that Djokovic could only retrieve into the net.
“After the first set I thought ‘Carlos increase the level’, everyone will be disappointed,” Alcaraz said.
“I fall in love with grass right now, it’s amazing, I didn’t expect to play at this level in such a short period. I’ve played just four tournaments on grass and I’ve won Queens and I’ve won here. I’ve learned really, really fast.”