CARLOS ALCARAZ defeated Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon overnight. Yes, you read that right. The 20-year-old Spanish wunderkind took out the Serbian champ and grand slam GOAT in a five-set thriller 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. Alcaraz is no longer just a prospective ‘prince that was promised’. By beating Djokovic on tennis’ biggest stage, he’s proved he’s Jon freakin’ Snow.
Alcaraz, 20, became the third youngest men’s Wimbledon champion ever behind Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg. He also ended Djokovic’s centre court winning streak, which dates back to 2013, and he robbed the Serb of a record-equalling eighth All England title. As we warned earlier in the tournament in our best Omar from The Wire impression, “If you come at the king, you best not miss”. Alcaraz didn’t. After Djokovic got out to a 5-0 lead in the first set, Alcaraz came roaring back in the second, holding his nerve in a tense tiebreaker, in which astonishingly it was the Djoker who appeared rattled, offering up a series of unforced errors.
Alcaraz then laid the smackdown in the third, winning it handsomely 6-1, before the Serb showed his customary grit and guile to even things up at 2 sets all, blowing a kiss to the crowd after a crucial break of serve for good measure. It was here that Alcaraz could, possibly should have faltered, as so many challengers who came before him have done. Instead, the Spaniard kept up his aggression, consistently peppering the baseline and putting the best defensive player of all time and probably the best returner of serve ever, on the back foot.
Both players had break-point opportunities early before Alcaraz prevailed in a frenzied third game that saw the Serb fall down, get up and then watch helplessly as Alcaraz nailed a backhand down-the-line passing shot to claim the break. Djokovic cracked his racket on the net post in frustration. From there the Spaniard was able to serve out the match.
“It’s great to win but even if I had lost, I would be really proud of myself with this amazing run, making history in this beautiful tournament, playing a final against a legend of our sport,” Alcaraz said. “It’s incredible, it’s a dream come true, to be able to play in these stages. It’s amazing, for a boy of 20 years old, I didn’t expect to reach this kind of situation really fast. I am really, really proud of myself.”
Djokovic was as gracious as ever in defeat, admitting that perhaps he was owed a few losses on the cosmic ledger, after winning so many closely contested finals in the last decade. “I guess when all the emotions are settled, I have to still be very grateful because I won many, many tight and close matches in the past years,” Djokovic said. “To name a few, in the 2019 final against Roger, when I was match points down. Maybe I should have lost a couple of finals that I won. I think this is even-steven.” When you have 23 grand slams, it’s perhaps a little easier to be philosophical.
So, who is Carlos Alcaraz and does his victory mark the beginning of a new era in men’s tennis? Let’s take a look.
Who is Carlos Alcaraz?
Hailing from El Palma, a village in the Murcia region of Spain, Alcaraz is the world no.1, now a two-time grand slam winner, and, after this, probably a household name. The Spaniard became the youngest man to reach the no.1 ranking at 19 years, 4 months and 16 days after winning last year’s US Open. He turned pro in 2020 at 16 and has already won 11 ATP singles titles. If that weren’t enough, he’s even impressed our own tennis wunderkind, Kyrgios: “Seeing what Alcaraz has been able to put together in such a short period of time is nuts,” Kyrgios said on the eve of Wimbledon, before withdrawing due to injury. “He’s got so much discipline and desire to do well.”
What are Alcaraz’s strengths?
Until now Alcaraz had been regarded as a clay-court specialist and the natural heir to Nadal, his idol. Alcaraz boasts a ferocious forehand, as well as a reliably flat double-handed backhand. His ability to mix up the force of his groundstrokes can upset opponents’ rhythm and he is deft at drop shots. His lightening court speed and easy lateral movement mean he can play great defensive tennis but his preference is to attack from the baseline. At 183cm he’s on the shorter side for a tennis player, but that doesn’t stop him from averaging around 210km/h on his first serves. While Nadal is his idol, his all-round game means he’s more often compared to Federer. Those comparisons are no longer hyperbolic.
What are Alcaraz’s weaknesses?
Growing up on clay and hard courts means Alcaraz is still honing his game on grass. But while it’s not his preferred surface he’s improving fast, recently taking out his maiden grass-court tournament with a straight sets victory 6-4, 6-4 over Aussie Alex de Minaur at Queens Club. Last year, he made the fourth round at Wimbledon, his best grass-court result at a grand slam. The victory at Queens appeared to embolden Alcaraz, the Spaniard telling reporters: “I see Wimbledon as the most beautiful tournament on the tour. It’s a tournament that I really wanted to win someday. And I have a lot of confidence to make that dream possible this year . . . after beating amazing guys, and with the level that I played, I consider myself one of the favourites to win Wimbledon.” Not short on confidence then, which leads us to our next question.
Is Alcaraz mentally strong enough?
If Alcaraz’s mental fortitude had been in doubt before the tournament, the question has now been put to bed. Winning two slams by 20 and beating Djokovic on a court he regards as his lounge room is a testament to a man who rules his cranium-sized kingdom. Alcaraz had warned after suffering cramps brought on by nerves at the French Open that his next encounter with the Serb would be different. “I think I learned a lot from that match [for] the next time I’m going to face Novak. It’s going to be different for me.” As they say in Spanish, the man has cojones.
Does Carlos Alcaraz have the ‘it factor’?
Well, he’s 20, world number 1, good looking, has sponsorships with Nike, BMW, Rolex and Calvin Klein and a rumoured girlfriend in Maria Gonzalez Gimez, plus around 2.6m followers on Instagram. All pretty par for the course for a pro tennis player. Perhaps we’ll leave it to our Nick, who knows a bit about entertaining tennis audiences, to weigh in on this one: “He’s got that showman about him as well, which I like.”
Does Carlos Alcaraz’s victory at Wimbledon mark a new era in men’s tennis?
Yes, by dethroning Djokovic at Wimbledon, we can safely say the Big Three era is finally over. But don’t think for a moment that Djokovic is done. The Serb is still close to the peak of his powers, even at 36. He will likely still enter every slam he contests as equal-favourite with Alcaraz and would still be the outright favourite at the Australian Open where the only thing that can stop him are our country’s immigration authorities. Perhaps, we are entering a new ‘big two’ era?
Alternative take: maybe Djokovic’s aura of invincibility over five sets has been dented and other young players such as Jannick Sinner, Holger Rune and even our own Kyrgios will be emboldened by Alcaraz’s victory. Maybe they’ll smell blood in the water? One thing’s for sure, whichever way it plays out, it’s going to be fascinating to watch.