The brilliant Carlos Alcaraz inaugurates the changing of the guard | Wimbledon 2023

Oover to you then, Carlos. In nearly five hours of jaw-dropping play on a soft grass court, seasoned with cussedness, grunt from the crowd and marvelous champion will, the future of men’s tennis also became the present. It seemed fitting that the final note of a top-flight Wimbledon men’s final was also surprisingly tender.

As Carlos Alcaraz collapsed on his back on the grass of center court, Novak Djokovic crossed him and hugged him, staring, for the first time since the first set four hours ago, at the era when the world was still young, as the only true adult. to research. Ten years of preparation, Djokovic had at least finally given Center Court what he wanted. More precisely, a defeat. But what a defeat, or rather what a victory for Alcaraz, who was simply sublime here.

It’s truly rare in sports to see such an obvious meeting of top talent heading in opposite directions, one somewhere near the end, the other just coming out of the gates and onto the surface of the moon. The changing of the guard, the GOAT against the kid, followed both players throughout the draw.

But while Djokovic has looked below his best here at times, it would be wrong to attribute that to waning powers.

The real cause, the real story was a brilliant display of champion nerve and intuitive on-the-job learning from Alcaraz, who started the match looking callous and rushed, and ended with a rich tennis seam on balletic, creative and infinitely varied turf.

It was an amazing tennis match. For half an hour, Djokovic just seemed to shove his man off the court, winning the first set 6-1 in the blink of an eye. From there it became something completely different, a match that Alcaraz went on to win and then not win, dragged down by the forces of evil, a refusal to bend a champion’s will so intense that Djokovic eventually began attacking the court furniture, mauling his racquet head-on. the net post as he broke down in the final set, a man literally at war with the basic equipment of tennis.

In the end, one thing is obviously true. Alcaraz is absolutely the real deal, a challenger to Djokovic’s supremacy at any stage of his early years, not just at the end. Could there be a better way to win this final at 20, fight an all-time great in pursuit of a calendar grand slam, and then end up winning this thing playing magically varied tennis at the end of your physical limits?

Novak Djokovic feels the tension as he delivers the finalist's speech.
Novak Djokovic feels the tension as he delivers the finalist’s speech. Photography: Shi Tang/Getty Images

There will be other games for Alcaraz on this ground. Winning this one is an act of empire building, the kind of victory that stays with you through the challenges ahead. Both men are relentless, but somehow Djokovic has always looked like an icon being torn down. No matter how hard he pushed, those startling punches and grabs just keep coming back. There is no escape from Alcaraz.

And through it all, strange things kept happening. At one point, Djokovic walked off the pitch for six minutes to get his leg treated and then returned to play like a superhero, moving like a god. Alcaraz double faulted to give up the fourth set, from a position of near infallibility, then instantly regained his level, remembering what he was doing in those lighter, sunnier moments, reeling off volleys sublime, drop shots, tactile play and becoming more creative. as the pressure increased, see everything in 5D.

Serving to go 5-3 in the final set, he produced a forehand winner with such surprising power that the air seemed to leave center court, sucked into the sky by the collective gawp. Who do this ? Who does it when they’ve never been here before, so deep into this kind of day on this kind of stage?

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