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Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic lived up to the expectations they bore on their shoulders. They both reached the final without any scare. The duel that should have happened at the French Open took place at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Criquet Club instead. This amazing encounter crowned the younger opponent. Carlos took the trophy home under the eyes of the seven-times champion: 1/6 7/6 6/1 3/6 6/4.

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The Serbian didn’t lose a match on Center Court for ten years. His legendary win against Roger Federer in 2019 marked the handover of power. I thought he was untouchable in a Grand Slam, especially on the London grass. The stakes and his opponent’s ardor got the better of my gullibility. I should have been warned by the past. Despite his thirty-five Grand Slam finals, Novak Djokovic is never quite himself when he plays an historical match. His encounter against Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 US Open proved it. He was a single win away from making the Calendar Grand Slam – a feat that hasn’t been achieved since Rod Laver in 1969. Nevertheless, he fell apart. This final was even more important. The Djoker played for all records: Margaret Court’s twenty-four Grand Slams, Bjorn Borg’s five Wimbledon titles in a row and most importantly Roger Federer’s eight Championships.

Was Novak Djokovic not at his best? Does Carlos Alcaraz have too much talent? Maybe a bit of both. This Sunday, the Serbian made mistakes that didn’t seem like him. The Spanish prodigy was ready to do whatever it took to win his second Grand Slam. This one tasted even better because he beat the best player in history on his way to victory.

When both players entered Center Court, only one question remained in my mind. Did Carlos Alcaraz learn from his experience in Paris? I hoped that he did, but nothing could confirm it. The speedy first set worried me a bit. The tension of the match took the better of the young Spanish. He was choked by Novak Djokovic who couldn’t be disturbed. Trapped behind his baseline by the Serbian deep returns, Carlos Alcaraz was out of solutions. He suffered long rallies and inevitably missed before his elder. Novak Djokovic handled the first set with an iron hand. During the first thirty minutes, nothing resisted him: 6/1.

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When everything seemed already writen, Carlos Alcaraz fought back. He followed the only path that stood before him: to run to the net. He knew that Novak Djokovic would anticipate his movements, but he had no other choice. He made a string of rises to the net, with more or less success. His initiative was rewarded. The passing shots that flashed before his eyes didn’t discourage him. Juan Carlos Ferrero’s student managed to dominate the rallies with his devastating forehand. Only his lack of consistency during his return games kept playing tricks on him. He gave a few free points to Novak Djokovic, who didn’t ask for so much. The set ended up in a tiebreak. Carlos Alcaraz started this challenge with the statistics against him. Novak Djokovic won each of his last fifteen tiebreaks in Grand Slams. But each streak must come to an end. His favorite weapon betrayed him. While he was a mini break ahead, he threw a couple of backhands in the net. An astonishing winning return from Carlos Alcaraz clinched him the second set: 7/6. The match took a turn.

Carlitos was determined to win the title. With a set all, the Spaniard was much more conquering. He inflicted huge pressure on his opponent when he won the latter’s game of serve with an astonishing passing shot. Novak Djokovic missed his live saving first serve. The fourth game illustrated the third set’s dynamic. The Serbian needed to win his game of serve if he still hopped to comeback in this set. For twenty-six minutes, both players left their heart on the court. Novak Djokovic’s unforced errors piled up and prevented him from taking advantage of Carlos’ mediocre returns. The seven-times champion lost his serve once again – as well as the set. It seemed like he didn’t want to fight anymore: 6/1.

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Every minute of the third set led to think that Carlitos would clinch his first Wimbledon title in four sets. Nobody believed in Novak anymore… except for me. I know his ability to comeback from the impossible, to turn around situations that shouldn’t be. When he reentered Center Court after a short beak, I knew he would pull himself together – and he did. For a few minutes, the most successful men in Grand Slam history fought for each of his serve games. Both men put up a spectacular battle. Their rallies didn’t seem real. The Djoker waited for an opportunity and took it when it occurred. He took advantage of a missed serve game from Carlitos to take the lead of the fourth set. A few unforced errors from the Spaniard were enough to get Novak Djokovic back into the match. He matched the score and forced his opponent to play a deciding set: 6/3.

At this moment, I thought that the experience would determine the outcome. A fifth set in the Wimbledon final takes its toll on the nerves. However, Carlos Alcaraz got the first break point. He didn’t convert it – and Novak returned the favor in the next game. The Spaniard managed to exceed the expectations that laid upon him. He demonstrated the extent of his talent to the London crowd. Each of his rises to the net reminded me of his love for the game. He stole his opponent’s serve thanks to another passing shot down the line. He confirmed this precious advantage with a love game. Novak Djokovic won each of his serve games that followed. He chased the score, looking for the slightest doubt in his young rival’s mind. At only twenty years old, how could he finish this astonishing match without flinching? Juan Carlos Ferrero’s student isn’t from this world. He made a string of exceptional points followed by a serve on the T to get a first match point. It was enough: 6/4.

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Carlos Alcaraz is the winner of the 2023 Wimbledon edition. I didn’t want to write those words before watching one of the greatest matches of the year. However, they seem right. The Spanish prodigy deserves the win. A few might want to talk about a handover of power. They will be too quick to think that Novak Djokovic has been overtaken by the Carlitos phenomenon. The latter managed to show his best level of tennis during the most important match of his career while the Serbian once again failed to do so. More than a confession of weakness from the best player in history, I see in this encounter the promise of a majestic rivalry to come.

Marnie Abbou

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