hether this finally proves to be the changing of the guard in men’s tennis remains to be seen. But in a Wimbledon final that will go down as an all-time classic, Carlos Alcaraz edged out Novak Djokovic 1-6, 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 on a Centre Court where his opponent had not lost in 10 years.
It was perhaps befitting that his vanquisher a decade ago, Andy Murray, should be watching a match which at four hours and 42 minutes long was just 15 minutes shy of the all-time record for a final here.
It would be premature to say that Djokovic’s time is done at the top of the sport. He won the first two Grand Slams of the year and had been bidding to match Roger Federer’s men’s record of eight Wimbledon titles. That, Margaret Court’s outright record of 24 Grand Slams and the calendar sweep will all have to wait.
Astonishingly, this was only Alcaraz’s 17th match on grass and, bar an opening set capitulation, he played like he belonged. At times, his shot-making was incredible to earn only his second Grand Slam title. At 20, it feels like many more lie ahead of him.
It made him the youngest Wimbledon men’s champion since Boris Becker back in 1987 while an opponent 16 years his senior defied his age only to lose for the first time on grass since Queen’s in 2018.
It was a match of unbelievable quality and drama, every game felt pivotal, in fact every point as the match went into a fourth and then fifth set. The opening game, which lasted seven minutes, hinted at the precursor to a Wimbledon classic but the first set could hardly have been more one-sided.
Having survived a break point on his own opening service game, Djokovic then earned three against the opening Alcaraz service game, the third of which he converted when Alcaraz sent the ball long.
The crowd thought Alcaraz had got himself a break-back point in the very next game with a tweener lob but rather than clipping the line as he thought and hoped, it was half-a-foot long.
Djokovic was just relentless, his returning near perfect as he raced into a 5-0 lead. With Alcaraz facing the first bagel in a Wimbledon men’s final since fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal in 2006, he finally got a game on the scoreboard but it merely delayed the inevitable. The first set was over after just 34 minutes.
It took marginally longer to complete just the opening five games of a second set of such ridiculously high-quality tennis from both players. Alcaraz had almost been too aggressive and too eager to get on the front foot in that first set. At the start of the second, finally the shot-making became more consistent.
He got the early break for a 2-0 lead but was broken back in the very next game. Any fears that Djokovic might run away with the set from there proved unfounded. Frustration crept into Djokovic’s game for the first time when at 3-3 a shot from Alcaraz got Hollywood approval, Brad Pitt among those standing to applaud.
Such a tight set inevitably ended in a tiebreak. Djokovic has won his last 15 tiebreaks at Grand Slams this year and No16 looked on its way when he went 3-0 up.
But even he couldn’t maintain that level of shoot-out perfection, failing to convert at 6-5 and then being passed as he attempted to serve and volley on set point against him. The crowd roared with delight as Alcaraz cupped his ear to milk the applause of a set which, in truth, he had to win, while Djokovic shook his head furiously at his box.
The third set will be remembered for its fifth game. With Alcaraz already a break point up, it spanned 32 minutes and 26 points – the longest game in a Wimbledon men’s final – along with 13 deuces and seven break points. Neither player seemed capable of capitulating before Djokovic finally did. It almost knocked the stuffing out of him.
By then he was almost consigned to the fact that the match was heading for a fourth set and was broken once more at the end of the third.
Both players went off for a toilet break afterwards, Djokovic taking some seven minutes to return and greeted with a smattering of boos from an impatient crowd. He faced three break points on his opening service game and looked to be limping slightly between points.
But he produced a pivotal hold, just as he did two games later. The break finally came a game later for Djokovic when Alcaraz, whose defensive game had been Djokovic-esque for so long, limply put a half-volley into the net. Djokovic marked it with a kiss to the crowd.
He broke again in the final game of the set, an Alcaraz double fault taking the match to a decider at just shy of four hours. The key break in the fifth came at 2-1 to Alcaraz with an exquisite passing shot after which Djokovic threw his racket at the net post.
If the Spaniard was feeling the pressure, he didn’t show it to hold the advantage to the end of the match before collapsing on the court, in relief, exhaustion and celebration.