Alcaraz seizes throne, ends Djokovic’s long Wimbledon reign

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The Spaniard is the youngest Centre Court winner since Boris Becker in 1986.

Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after beating Novak Djokovic to win the final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. (PA/AP pic)

LONDON: When Novak Djokovic fell face down on the dusty Centre Court baseline early in the fourth set of Sunday’s blockbuster Wimbledon final against Carlos Alcaraz, for a second he looked in no hurry to rise up and rejoin battle.

Of course, he did, because you do not have 23 Grand Slam titles in the bank by ducking a fight in moments of crisis.

But this time, not even the elastic-limbed Serb’s warrior spirit nor the tennis super-computer lodged between his ears could prevent the force of nature on the other side of the net from seizing his Wimbledon throne.

Young pretenders have repeatedly tried and failed to take Djokovic down at Wimbledon.

But this time, the 36-year-old could not resist the most special of them all as Alcaraz, 16 years his junior, completed a remarkable 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory to become the youngest winner since Boris Becker in 1986 and only the third Spanish man to win the title after Manuel Santana and Rafa Nadal. It felt like a seismic moment in men’s tennis.

“I’ve won some epic finals that I was close to losing so it’s fair and square,” Djokovic, who saved match points when beating Roger Federer in 2019, told reporters.

“Credit to Carlos, he showed amazing poise in the crucial moments to play attacking tennis and close out the match the way he did. Some regrets, I had my chances, but credit to him.

“I’ve never played a player like him ever. He is a very complete player and proved he is the best player in the world.”

If further proof were required that Alcaraz is the future, it was provided in spades during a riveting roller coaster of a final played out in front of a transfixed Centre Court crowd that regularly broke out into chants of “Carlos Carlos”.

The bull-like Spaniard, playing only his second Grand Slam final compared to Djokovic’s record 35, might have folded after being schooled by the master in a 34-minute opening set.

Instead he shrugged that off, plugged into the crackling energy inside the old arena and seized control with the sort of spellbinding shot-making and clear thinking that might have had Djokovic feeling as if was playing against a mirror of himself.

Djokovic, bidding to match Federer’s record eight men’s singles titles and move level with Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam haul, may reflect on the backhand he netted when he had a point for a two-set lead in a tense tiebreak at the end of an 85-minute second set of stunning quality.

When Alcaraz then broke Djokovic’s serve in a leg-sapping 26-minute duel on his way to taking the third set and threatened to break early in the fourth he was in total control.

Djokovic, hanging on desperately to his unblemished 10-year record on the world’s most iconic lawn and seeking a fifth straight title, was not done though and turned up the dial to drag the contest into the fifth-set decider it deserved.

Few would have bet against him at that point, after all in the previous 77 matches at Wimbledon in which he won the opening set, he had gone on to win.

But the match swung in two crucial games.

At 1-1, Djokovic had a break point and sent Alcaraz to all corners of the court, only to thump a high volley into the net — a shot made trickier by a gusty wind.

One game later, he was thumping his racket into the wooden net post after Alcaraz drove a backhand winner past him to snatch what would be the decisive break of the match.

Djokovic duly earned a second warning of the match, after an earlier one for taking too long to serve, and was perhaps lucky the chunks of his disintegrated frame did not fly into the crowd.

The only question then was whether Alcaraz could hold steady and grab the title. Djokovic dug deep to at least force the top seed to serve for the match and he betrayed no nerves.

A sublime lob was followed by a stretching volley winner and he brought up match point with a first serve before a hefty forehand ushered in a new Wimbledon era.

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