Bullish Carlos Alcaraz backs himself against Novak Djokovic in a generational Wimbledon final

In a battle of the old and the new, the Serb and promising Spaniard are expected to serve up a classic final match

A day of miserable rain in London, two men’s semi-finals under the Centre Court roof and the tennis truism remains intact. There is still a chasm between the rest of world tennis and the top – aka Novak Djokovic.

The only remaining question is whether Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz has bridged the gap when a generation of tennis players before him could not.

‘Where are they now’ seems a cruel dismissal of the current 25-years-olds who could not dislodge the top three of Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, but with Alcaraz in such explosive, big game form facing Djokovic in his first Wimbledon final as the Serb is looking for his fifth in a row, there is a momentum from the youngster that at least points to hard questions being asked in Sunday’s final.

To add to that there is no fear from Alcaraz of Djokovic’s dizzying record on the grass.


“It’s a final. It’s no time to be afraid. It is no time to be tired,” said a bullish Alcaraz after his match.

The 20-year-old, 16 years younger than Djokovic, was masterful against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and in no mood to entertain the willing crowd with a feast of five sets.

Having seen Djokovic walk off after three sets against Jannick Sinner, so too did the world number one race through his semi-final 6-3, 6-3 before an uncharacteristic third set where service games were exchanged fives times before Alcaraz hit the shot of the match, a running forehand winner on match point.

“This is a dream for me being able to play a final. I can’t believe it. It’s time to keep dreaming. It was really, really difficult to close that match,” said the winner. “I had to show my best in that tough moment, play aggressive. I think that was the key to closing that match.

“What can I say. Everybody knows it’s going to be really, really difficult. But I will back myself. I will believe in myself. I will believe that I can beat him here. Its going to be a really tough time for me.”

World-class returning of the Medvedev serve allowed Alcaraz break twice in the first two sets, taking 35 minutes for the first and 36 for the second. He will examine how he dropped serve in the third but his power, precision and youthful defiance might just be the ingredients to upset the master Djokovic.

Against Sinner, the Serb reminded one of footballer Gary Lineker. Speaking about inevitability with the England team, Lineker once came up with a line that could yet be his epitaph. “Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end the Germans always win.”

So, Djokovic, serene, except early in the match, when he was docked a point for groaning long after the ball had been hit, with untroubled dexterity did what he has done for the past 10 years. All of it without a troublesome fourth set.

His tall Italian opponent, Sinner, huffed and puffed and even though he was buoyed by the Centre Court crowd, who took to regular choruses of booing the defending champion, Djokovic did as the Germans do against England.

The 36-year-old dropped a set to both Hubert Hurkacz and Andrey Rublev in the previous two rounds but he never looked vulnerable against Sinner, although the final stanza was pushed by the younger player to a tie-break.

The controversial call for hindrance took place during a backhand with the decision sending Djokovic on a disgruntled walk to the umpire’s chair for an animated conversation, saying afterwards it was the first time it had ever happened.

But it didn’t slow down his progress towards the 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4) win, which now offers him the delicious possibility of a fifth straight Wimbledon title and 24th Grand Slam.

Despite the expression of coach Goran Ivanisevic continuing to be one of an unfolding catastrophe, the number two seed was in control throughout and consistently outclassed his 21-year-old opponent to continue the incredible record.

“It is great to be part of this next generation, I love it,” said an ebullient Djokovic after the match. But it was a wiser head a few hours after the match

“I obviously have more experience than most of these guys. Experience, yeah, could help a little bit I think maybe in some important moments, beginning the match, managing the nerves, managing the occasion, circumstances.

“Yeah, that’s where experience could play a role. But it’s not going to be the deciding factor really. It’s not going to affect that much on the game itself. So whoever on a given day is in a better state, I mean, mentally and physically, will be the winner.”

Some Grand Slam final advice for young Alcaraz, it has worked for Djokovoc 23 times.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times