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Novak Djokovic outlasts Carlos Alcaraz for Cincinnati title

Novak Djokovic overcame a match point and stifling heat to defeat world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) and collect the Cincinnati Open in a heart-pounding thriller Sunday.

Djokovic collapsed on his back before tearing his shirt off after triumphing in the nearly four-hour contest to win his third title in Cincinnati and avenge his loss to Alcaraz in last month’s Wimbledon final.

“This was one of the exciting matches I’ve ever played in any tournament,” Djokovic, the winner of a men’s-record 23 Grand Slam titles, said during the postmatch trophy presentation. “It felt like a Grand Slam.”

With temperatures hovering near 90 degrees, the 36-year-old Djokovic survived the tournament’s longest men’s match since at least 1990 to become the oldest man to win the championship. Ken Rosewall was 35 when he won in 1970.

At 3 hours, 49 minutes, the match was the longest best-of-three set final in ATP tour history (since 1990).

The Serbian player looked hobbled by the intense humidity at the tail end of the first set, barely moving when Alcaraz hit a backhand winner to grab the opener.

Alcaraz, who looked fresh despite being on the court for more than 10 hours this week, grabbed a 4-2 second-set lead, and it appeared the Spanish star might cruise to the finish line.

But Alcaraz would produce a terrible service game while leading 4-3 that included four unforced errors to give life to the world No. 2.

In the second-set tiebreak, Djokovic saved a championship point and went on to force a deciding set after winning a 25-shot rally.

During the break before the third set, a frustrated Alcaraz pounded a hand against the plastic drinks container next to his chair, requiring a medical timeout to tape his finger.

In the decider, Djokovic broke on his fifth opportunity of the game for a 4-3 lead.

The drama would continue as Djokovic squandered two match points while returning and leading 5-3.

Alcaraz would save two more match points and break serve when Djokovic missed an overhead for 5-5.

The players ultimately arrived at another tiebreak, which Djokovic won when the 20-year-old’s forehand return went wide.

The victory was Djokovic’s 95th career title and 39th Masters 1000 crown.

The US Open starts Aug. 28. Alcaraz, the defending champion, is guaranteed to stay No. 1 heading into the tournament.

Steve Carr

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