If Carlos Alcaraz had been more patient, perhaps he could have waited for Novak Djokovic to fade. At 20, Alcaraz is 16 years younger than the great champion, and it is likely that the day Djokovic retires or steps back, Alcaraz can claim the tennis kingdom as his own.
But Alcaraz was never inclined to wait. When he won the US Open in September at 19 years 129 days old, he became the youngest male player to reach the No. 1 ranking, and was the second-youngest player, after Pete Sampras at 19 years and 28 days old, to win that tournament in the Open Era. Djokovic was absent from the event.
Now, winning again, he will become the fifth male player in the Open Era to win more than one Grand Slam tournament title before his 21st birthday. What better way to do that than to grab it now, straight from Djokovic’s steel fist? In boxing, it is said that in order to claim the crown, one must convincingly defeat the champion, and Sunday’s Wimbledon men’s singles final on grass could be the equivalent of a 15-round heavyweight match.
The potential showdown features Alcaraz, who knocked out Daniil Medvedev 6-3 6-3 6-3 in Friday’s semi-final against Djokovic, who knocked out Janik Siner in straight sets. It’s No. 1 against No. 2 – the 23-time Grand Slam winner, who was 7-1 in the Wimbledon finals, against the young Spaniard he played in his first match.
It’s also a network programmer’s dream, a key rivalry that will determine whether Djokovic extends his record tally of 23 Grand Slam titles by winning his fifth consecutive Wimbledon Cup, or whether the hard-hitting newcomer overcomes erstwhile nerves to take over the throne.
Alcaraz wants it now, and he wants to do it against Djokovic with millions of people watching – not against a lesser-known player like Casper Ruud, his opponent in the US Open final, which was mostly a one-sided affair.
“It is even more special to play a final match against one of the legends of our sport,” Alcaraz said. “If I win, it would be great for me, not only to win Wimbledon, but to do it against Novak. I always say, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Alcaraz and Djokovic met only twice on the court and both won. Alcaraz earned a best-of-three match on clay at the Madrid Masters 2022. Perhaps Djokovic’s win was even more telling. She was a semi-finalist at the French Open last month, a match that included a second set of tennis greats. But then Alcaraz started convulsing all over his body. At first he assumed it was caused by heat or lack of fluids. But Alcaraz admitted it was nerves.
He managed to play through it, but a match that was developing into a classic quickly degenerated into a gentle cruise for Djokovic, who won the French Open, his second biggest title of the year.
“He did nothing wrong in court,” Alcaraz said. “Physically he is a beast. Mentally he is a beast.”
And Alcaraz promised on Friday, after he kicked Medvedev off the field, that he would use brain exercises to deal with the pressure, and was not afraid to repeat his last meeting with Djokovic. But when he steps into the center court stand in front of a crowd hungry for some kind of history, all thought games and confident expressions can be worthless, especially against a player of Djokovic’s talent, determination and experience.
Sunday will be unlike anything Alcaraz has seen, even in his previous Grand Final, against Rudd. Djokovic will play in his 35th Grand Slam final. In Alcaraz’s mind, Djokovic might have been taking out the trash.
“For Novak, it’s another day, another moment,” Alcaraz said. “For me, it will be the best moment of my life, I think.”
One element of the plot goes back a few days, when Alcaraz’s father was seen videotaping Djokovic training. Alkarez rejected the idea that he could gain any competitive advantage from him. All the video evidence he needs of Djokovic’s tactics and attitudes from Djokovic’s previous eight Wimbledon finals, shown on TV, is easily accessible.
When asked about the matter at a press conference, Alcaraz was presented as a caught moment. But he did not hide it.
“Oh, maybe that’s right,” he said. “My dad is a huge fan of tennis. He doesn’t just watch my matches. I think he gets into the club at 11am, goes out at 10pm, watches the matches, and watches the training from everyone. He’s able to watch Djokovic in real life, yeah, maybe it’s true that he filmed the sessions.” “.
What happens in the District Court is more important than in the practice courts. Alcaraz certainly looked poised on Friday, using a combination of crushing forehand and deft backhand to take down Medvedev, who beat both and lost to both.
“An interesting match,” Medvedev said musingly. “We can’t say for sure who will win.”
We can say that the winner will be one of the two best teams in the world.