Carlos Alcaraz suffered nervous cramps losing to Novak Djokovic at the French Open last month. And the uncertain Spaniard, 20, then dropped the first set in his opening match of only his third ever grass-court event at Queen’s Club to world No 83 Arthur Rinderknech.
I thought it was too soon for Alcaraz to win Wimbledon. I thought Novak Djokovic would equal Roger Federer’s male record of eight titles at SW19 and complete the third leg of a Calendar Grand Slam.
And I still thought that after a 34-minute first set in the final when the world No 1 still looked nervous and Djokovic looked ruthless. I was wrong. Alcaraz’s achievement in beating the defending champion and ending his 10-year unbeaten run on Centre Court was mindblowing.
The prodigy from Murcia has already broken many records in his young career. But taming Djokovic at Wimbledon so soon seemed beyond even his precocious talents.
Alcaraz has amazing variety in his play with a huge serve and forehand combined with a gentle touch with his drop shots and volleys. But he also showed in his second Grand Slam final – he won his first against Casper Ruud at the US Open last year – that he has huge mental strength.
He stepped up and matched the greatest male Grand Slam winner in history in the big moments to show maturity beyond his years. Djokovic had won his last 15 tiebreaks in Grand Slams but Alcaraz saved a set point before levelling the match by taking the second set.
He won a remarkable 26-minute game on the Serb’s serve in the third set by taking his seventh break point. And serving for the match at 5-4 in the fourth, he sent down six consecutive first serves to seal his greatest win. And at the age of 20, there will be many more.
He will be the favourite to retain his US Open title. At the French Open, even though he will be 37 this time next year, Djokovic will again be a challenger. He will be at Wimbledon too.
The Serbian has had to live being the least popular of the Big Three with all the fan adulation of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. It must now be galling to be the undisputed biggest name in the sport but still have the Centre Court crowd cheer on a player from the next generation.
It was a classic encounter. My first Wimbledon men’s final live was in 2000 when Pete Sampras beat Patrick Rafter to win his then record 13th Grand Slam title. The two best finals I have witnessed since were Nadal beating Federer in 2008 to end the Swiss superstar’s Wimbledon domination.
And Djokovic saving two match points before claiming the match tiebreak in 2019 against Federer. This final was up there among the best of all time. Djokovic now wants a rivalry with the 20-year-old, at least a year or two. So does the rest of tennis.