The future is now.
Carlos Alcaraz, the brightest star of tennis’ post-Big Three generation, did what no one on earth has been able to do in five years: defeat Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. Alcaraz shook off first-set jitters and fourth-set nerves to conquer Djokovic, 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.
It was as definitive a statement as tennis has seen, a 20-year-old with just one grand slam under his belt taking the best player in the game to the absolute limit for a stunning and historic victory.
Alumni from Brad Pitt to Daniel Craig to the Prince and Princess of Wales gathered at Center Court under blustery blue skies to watch the match with scripts straight out of Shakespeare. At one end of the field, Djokovic, the four-time defending champion, is looking to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles. On the other, Alcaraz, the defending US Open champion hailed as the future of the game but playing on center court for the first time.
Despite the big difference in age, experience and accolades, opinions were divided on a favorite. AI went with Alcaraz; IBM’s Watson had the Spaniard as a 55-45% favorite. Sportsbooks, on the other hand, favored Djokovic; BetMGM had him as a -200 favorite at the start of the game.
Alcaraz, the top seed, opted to give Djokovic the honor of serving first, and for a moment it seemed like a strategic masterstroke. A pinch of rain had dampened the grass on center court around 45 minutes before the start of the game, and Djokovic struggled to keep his footing in the opener. After four points, Djokovic finally held serve…and went on to win the next four games.
The only flaws in Alcaraz’s game on Sunday were strategy, not execution. Alcaraz spent the first set trying to force his booming forehands, but Djokovic simply slowed the tempo, both during and between points. Alcaraz couldn’t adapt, giving up back-to-back service games to lose 5-0. A meaningless service victory in game six set up the seventh and final game of the first set, where Djokovic lasered in and crushed Alcaraz in four straight points to win the set 6-1.
Djokovic is 79-1 at Wimbledon when he won the first set, and the first four sets of the second set showed why he is so dangerous with a lead. Alcaraz won the first two games of the set, allowing themselves smiles and punches for the first time in the entire game. But Djokovic quickly extinguished the daylight between them, breaking Alcaraz and winning his service game to level the set at two games apiece. Both men created an early highlight in game four of the set: a 29-punch rally that ignited the crowd and ended with a howl of defiance from Djokovic.
Deprived of the ability to control the tempo of the game, Alcaraz attempted to work the geometric angle, pulverizing Djokovic on serves and drawing him forward with drop shots. Alcaraz finally unleashed his athleticism, sending Djokovic stretching point after point. And finally, after a second set of one hour and 25 minutes, it paid off. Alcaraz won the second set via an 8-6 tiebreaker victory.
The second-set win ended Djokovic’s 15-game winning streak at major tournaments, including six at Wimbledon this year alone. It also shook Djokovic’s aura of invincibility and inevitability. Alcaraz broke Djokovic to start the third set, taking his first match leading all afternoon.
The third set marked a crucial point in the budding Djokovic-Alcaraz rivalry. The two had only played twice before, most recently and notably at Roland Garros in June. Also in this match, Djokovic had won the first set and Alcaraz the second in a decisive game. But at the start of this third set, Alcaraz started having cramps and he would only win two more games for the whole match. Djokovic will win Roland Garros, his second Grand Slam victory of the year and his 23rd overall.
On Sunday, cramps weren’t a problem, but sheer exhaustion kicked in. Game 5 of the third set was one of the most epic in Wimbledon history, a beast of 26 minutes, 56 seconds. and 32 points which featured 13 deuces, eight game points for Djokovic and seven break points for Alcaraz. In the end, Alcaraz won the game and, two quick games later, held a 2-1 lead. Djokovic practically staggered on his bench between sets, clearly deflated after the marathon match.
Both players briefly left the court after the third set, and Alcaraz came back first, pacing and bouncing on his heels as Djokovic extended the break for as long as he could. Djokovic returned to the pitch after a seven-minute break, stepping onto the grass as the crowd chanted Alcaraz’s name.
Emboldened by his third-set victory, Alcaraz began to tighten the screws on Djokovic, aggressively chasing serves with massive forehands, keeping Djokovic off balance and on his heels. This put Djokovic in an unfamiliar position, just struggling to stay even at the start of the fourth.
But as many stunned and defeated challengers can attest, Djokovic can seem restless until the moment you realize he’s locking you in and pushing you towards the inevitable. Djokovic broke Alcaraz to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth, and gave the crowd kisses while doing so. Four games later, Alcaraz double-faulted to give up the fourth set and move on to a decisive fifth.
Djokovic entered the final set with a 10-1 record in the fifth set at Wimbledon. Djokovic withstood a break attempt in the opener to make it 1-0, then Alcaraz did the exact same thing to level the match at 1. Alcaraz broke Djokovic to take a 2-1 lead, and a A frustrated Djokovic responded by smashing his racquet on the net post. Alcaraz snatched a four-point hold immediately after to take a 3-1 lead. Djokovic held serve, but in game six Alcaraz seemed to find another gear, hammering serve after serve to go four games and two away from a Wimbledon title.
But Djokovic remains dangerous as long as he has a racket in his hand. He won his third match to draw in one of Alcaraz, using Alcaraz’s youth and energy against him by running him all over the pitch. Alcaraz rallied and mounted skillful drop shots and irresistible aces for a 5-3 lead, leaving them just one game short of the title. Djokovic rallied with a solid service game at almost 5-4.
And then Alcaraz had Wimbledon on his racket, like chants of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” erupted around the pitch. After losing the first point, he lobbed over Djokovic’s head to level the score at 15. Alcaraz fired a miracle volley to come within two points of the title. A booming serve that Djokovic delivered long put Alcaraz on the cusp of the championship, and a brilliant forehand capped off the miraculous win.