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The world number one and his runner-up. One of the greatest hopes of tennis and the greatest player in the history of the sport. The final of the Cincinnati Masters 1000 exceeded its expectations. After a physical and mental battle lasting nearly 4 hours, Novak Djokovic triumphed over Carlos Alcaraz 5/7, 7/6, 7/6.

A One-Sided Match?

The first minutes of the match revealed the stakes of the situation. Long rallies were rare, and the servers remained in control. Mistakes on both sides of the net prevented the two opponents from fully expressing their tennis: 3/2. Novak Djokovic created the first opportunity of the encounter. After one of the longest rallies of the match, he earned his first break point. This was immediately converted with a forehand winner: 4/2. This lead was short-lived. Carlos Alcaraz fought for every ball while capitalizing on the unusual errors from the Serbian. He leveled the score with a love game: 4/4. The intensity of the match increased in the closing moments of the first set. Novak Djokovic forced himself to play forward to avoid a physical battle against his young rival, while Carlos Alcaraz imposed his playing style: 5/5. Just when it seemed like a tiebreak was looming, the Serb made a series of errors, offering break points to the Spanish prodigy. The first two were saved with a serve-volley and an ace; the third was sent beyond the court’s limits by Novak Djokovic: 6/5. Carlos Alcaraz didn’t expect this opportunity. He finished the first set with a lightning-fast cross-court backhand winner.

With a few minutes of hindsight, the outcome of this first set was entirely logical. Novak Djokovic was punished for his numerous unforced errors, while Carlitos’s initiative-taking was rewarded. The final points of the set suggested that this was just the beginning of what would become a legendary match.

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Strangled by the stifling heat of Cincinnati, Novak Djokovic shortened the rallies by coming to the net: 1/0. Carlos Alcaraz watched as his rival made unforced errors: 1/1. Three double faults later, the Serb sat on the bench at the changeover with a break deficit. The doctor and physiotherapist then came onto the court to save the former champion from heat exhaustion.

Is Novak Djokovic Immortal?

The Serb conserved his energy. He hit two winning forehands that surprised Carlos Alcaraz. The latter stormed the net to extinguish Novak Djokovic’s comeback hopes: 3/1. Physically better, the Djoker relied on powerful first serves to stay in touch. Carlitos, on the other hand, masterfully maneuvered his service games. The exchanges remained short and remarkably effective until two games of confusion. He attempted risky shots on the opponent’s serve before offering his own on a silver platter. A series of unforced errors revived Novak Djokovic, who didn’t expect it: 4/4. The tension increased as the level of play of the two men rose. A new kind of battle began. The Serb used volleys extensively while Carlos Alcaraz played with the lines: 6/6.

The tiebreak was the only way to separate them. The two players exchanged blows. Novak Djokovic refused to relinquish his baseline position; Carlos Alcaraz expressed his explosiveness. Mini breaks were gained and regained. Carlitos’s first match point was out of reach: a first serve down the T followed by a winning cross-court forehand. Novak Djokovic was determined to win this final. He exercised patience and let his opponent commit errors of greed. After an endless rally in the backhand diagonal, Carlos Alcaraz attempted a winner down the line that landed in the net. One set apiece. The suspense was total.

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The second set illustrated Novak Djokovic’s extraordinary mental skills. He managed to overcome the stifling Cincinnati heat and a set and a break deficit to regain momentum in this final. His experience and consistency triumphed over his young opponent. At times impatient, Carlos Alcaraz made mistakes that would likely haunt him.

A Historic Final Set

The young Spaniard didn’t seem to have forgotten the second set at the start of the final one. He committed a double fault followed by an unforced error, exposing him. Under pressure, the US Open champion regained his composure. He dominated the backhand diagonal against the master in that area: 1/0. The service games then passed by without any opportunities for the receivers: 2/2. Novak Djokovic created an opening. He got two break points thanks to a well-constructed passing shot. They were saved by an enterprising Carlos Alcaraz rushing to the net. The Serb was dominant on serve: 3/3. He placed immense pressure on his young rival. He made no more mistakes. The seventh game stretched on. Juan Carlos Ferrero’s protégé faced a barrage of break points. He saved the first four with powerful serves and backhand accelerations. The tension of the moment consumed him on Novak Djokovic’s fifth opportunity: he sent a ball into the net early in the rally. The Serb confirmed this advantage with great authority: 5/3.

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Carlos Alcaraz then had to serve to stay in the tournament. The winners flowed – in favor of the Djoker, who got a first match point. This was quickly erased by a serve-and-volley from Carlitos. The second seemed lost in advance, but he managed to hit a cross-court forehand passing shot on the run. The young Spaniard got a few moments of respite: 5/4. Novak Djokovic served for the championship. His rival, hanging on a thread, feared nothing anymore. He unleashed his shots, landing them on the lines. Match points and break points alternated. Novak Djokovic missed the first ones; Carlos Alcaraz missed the seconds. This high-intensity situation finally favored the younger of the two finalists. The demons haunted the Serb: a Djokosmash prolonged the match. The two men tightened the game to give us a final tiebreak: 6/6.

The second point was memorable. In an exchange that seemed endless, Novak Djokovic slid in defense to return Carlos Alcaraz’s relentless attacks. His determination paid off: he led 2-0. Fatigue was palpable in both players: the elder bowed his head between points while the younger slapped his thighs. The Spaniard recovered his one-mini-break deficit with a mistimed net approach. 4-4: the climax was near but still unpredictable. Novak Djokovic took matters into his own hands. He hit a lightning-fast forehand attack that left his opponent rooted to the spot. An outside kick serve later, he got a fifth match point. Carlos Alcaraz’s return landed beyond the court’s limits. Novak Djokovic was crowned the Cincinnati champion.

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A few moments later, the Serb lay on the ground. Happy and relieved. His blue polo shirt fell victim to his emotions. After a poignant embrace with Carlitos, they both returned to their seats.

At the conclusion of such a spectacle, only one thought lingers in the air. What a sadness that these two players have a 17-year age gap! Their rivalry is just beginning, but it’s already destined to fade away. So, let’s hope they will face each other as many times as possible in the coming years. Starting with the final of the US Open in 20 days.

Marnie Abbou

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