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Carlos Alcaraz stops Novak Djokovic to win 1st Wimbledon title

In a brilliant, gutsy performance Sunday in the Wimbledon final, world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz collected his second Grand Slam title in less than a year, defeating seven-time Wimbledon champ Novak Djokovic 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 and ending the 36-year-old Serbian’s quest for the calendar Grand Slam in 2023.

The match lasted four hours and 42 minutes and was the third-longest final in Wimbledon history.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” Alcaraz said on court after the match. “It’s great to win, but even if I would have lost, I would be really proud of myself, making history in this beautiful tournament, playing a final against a legend of our sport. It’s incredible.”

At 20 years, 72 days old, Alcaraz became the third-youngest men’s winner at Wimbledon in the Open era (since 1968).

In El Palmar, Spain, the village where Alcaraz grew up, hundreds of locals gathered at a youth center in the town square to watch their favorite player make history.

“What Carlos accomplished means pride for all the people from El Palmar,” Verónica Sánchez, the town’s mayor, told ESPN. Sánchez organized the watch party after Alcaraz’s semifinal win. “He’s an example for all the young people and is showing our town to the world,” she said.

Playing in only his fourth tournament on grass, Alcaraz has proved to be a quick study on the surface. In two previous appearances at the All England Club, Alcaraz had concluded no better than the fourth round. He displayed marked improvement last year, but nothing about his performance signaled he would lift the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy one year later or have the game — or gumption — to beat one of the all-time great grass-court players on Centre Court.

Before the second set Sunday, Djokovic’s serve had been broken only three times in 103 games this fortnight.

Alcaraz did better than that in three sets, storming back from a disastrous opening hour of tennis. Djokovic was clinical in the first set. He dismantled Alcaraz’s forehand and rushed him into errors. Alcaraz earned only his final service game that set, but he came alive on every point, as if the game were suddenly coming into focus.

After trading breaks with Djokovic in the second set, he faced him in a tiebreak. At Wimbledon. Down a set. In the final. On Centre Court. And he became the first person to defeat the 23-time Grand Slam champ in a tiebreak since Rafael Nadal in the quarters of last year’s French Open. After clinching the 85-minute second set, he lifted his racket to the sky, enticing the Wimbledon crowd to enjoy the moment with him.

“Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!” they chanted in response. If there is a 12th man in football and a sixth man in basketball, the second man at Centre Court helped shift the momentum Alcaraz’s way. He won that set and the next one, but lost focus and the fourth 3-6, which forced a fifth. Then, in a sensational display of grit, endurance and newfound nerves of steel, he broke Djokovic’s serve in the third game and eventually toppled the Wimbledon great.

“I fought until the last ball, every ball,” Alcaraz said in his post-match press conference. “We made great rallies, great points. It was a long match, long sets and it was the mental part that allowed me to stay there during the five sets. To stay good physically and mentally for five hours against a legend, making history like I did today, it’s the happiest moment of my life. I don’t think that’s going to change for a long time.”

Alcaraz stated many times this fortnight that he believed he could defeat Djokovic in the final. But there’s a vast divide between believing and doing. What Alcaraz accomplished Sunday — in a changing-of-the-guard moment that’s being compared to Roger Federer’s 2001 upset of Pete Sampras here in the fourth round — is difficult to overstate. Djokovic hadn’t lost a match here since 2017. He is a seven-time Wimbledon champion and already won the first two majors of this year.

“For someone of his age to handle the nerves, be playing attacking tennis, and to close out the match the way he did, he came up with some amazing shots,” Djokovic said in his post-match press conference. “I must say, the slices, the chipping returns, the net play, it’s very impressive. I didn’t expect him to play so well this year on grass, but he’s proven that he’s the best player in the world, no doubt. He’s playing some fantastic tennis on different surfaces, and he deserves to be where he is.”

Djokovic was also on track to add a rare accomplishment: a calendar Grand Slam. That a player with 17 games of grass-court experience ended his hope of holding all four major titles within the same calendar year is remarkable. That Alcaraz simply outplayed Djokovic on the court where he built his dynasty is legend-making. With his victory, Alcaraz becomes the second-youngest player to beat Djokovic in a major.

Steve Carr

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