This was Novak Djokovic against the world, and we watched him grow old as he lost to Carlos Alcaraz

new balance


In the end, the loneliness was too much for Novak Djokovic. The isolation was too much. He has defied solitude for most of his career. And he has laughed in the face of antipathy and ambivalence, even as he became the greatest men’s tennis player of all time. This was too much, though. There were too many. The odds were just too great.

To witness his defeat by Carlos Alcaraz on Centre Court in an epic Wimbledon men’s singles final was about more than just the defeat of a great champion by a force of nature 16 years his junior, a kid who seems destined to rule the tennis world in his stead for many years to come.

It was a defeat by Alcaraz and his youth and his verve and his power but this was not just Djokovic against Alcaraz; it was Djokovic versus 15,000 spectators inside the most famous arena in tennis, the vast majority of them cheering every point he lost and willing his opponent on for all they were worth.

It was Djokovic against the world. It always seems to be Djokovic against the world. And this time the world, and the brilliance of Alcaraz, brought him finally to his knees and to a seismic loss that seemed to herald the dawn of a new era and the end of Djokovic’s period of dominance.

Djokovic lost more than just a final here. He lost the chance to equal Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon men’s singles titles. He lost the chance of drawing level with Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

Novak Djokovic's loss in the Wimbledon final seemed to herald the end of his era of dominance

Novak Djokovic’s loss in the Wimbledon final seemed to herald the end of his era of dominance

The Serbian star had attempted to defy both Carlos Alcaraz and the Centre Court crowd

The Serbian star had attempted to defy both Carlos Alcaraz and the Centre Court crowd

Instead Djokovic was left waving goodbye to the prospect of achieving a calendar Grand Slam

Instead Djokovic was left waving goodbye to the prospect of achieving a calendar Grand Slam

Djokovic waved farewell to the prospect of becoming the first man for more than 50 years to complete the Calendar Slam of Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in the same year. That chance is unlikely to pass his way again.

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And now that Alcaraz has come of age, now that he has added a Wimbledon title to the US Open he won last year, Djokovic may find his opportunities of adding more Slams to his collection of 23 are dwindling.

Just when he has finally seen off Federer and Rafa Nadal, just when he thought he might have a free run at moving further ahead in the all-time list of Slams won, he has discovered that the pretender to his throne is a pretender no more. He is the real deal.

By the end of the second-longest men’s singles final in Wimbledon history — a final that contained a single game that lasted 26 minutes and which Alcaraz won — Djokovic looked every one of his 36 years.

He has always been a player who has defied time, as well as opinion, but as he forced the match into its fifth set, he looked old.

He stopped running for some of the devilish drop shots that Alcaraz began to float over the net with increasing frequency. He ceded defeat to them. He tried to stretch out his aches. But he did not have the bounce and the boundless energy that he saw dancing in front of him on the other side of the net.

Watching Alcaraz felt like watching a young Mike Tyson. It felt like watching a young man, little more than a boy, who is just starting to realise the destructive power of his strength and his youth and is so intoxicated by it that sometimes he cannot control it. 

And there were times when Djokovic reeled in the face of that youth. There were times when even he, the winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the man who had won the last four men’s singles titles at Wimbledon, simply looked overpowered.

Alcaraz demonstrated his destructive power as the Spanish youngster took charge of the final

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Alcaraz demonstrated his destructive power as the Spanish youngster took charge of the final

Djokovic was made to look old by Alcaraz during the the latter stages of the Wimbledon final

Djokovic was made to look old by Alcaraz during the the latter stages of the Wimbledon final

Alcaraz possesses a box office quality which has quickly won the 20-year-old new fans

Alcaraz possesses a box office quality which has quickly won the 20-year-old new fans

Djokovic was applauded for some of his winners but Alcaraz is the new superstar of tennis and he has the kind of panache in his game that Djokovic has never possessed. Djokovic is a competitor, a genius, but he is not spectacular like Alcaraz. Djokovic is not box office. He was never box office.

So while Djokovic hung in there, Alcaraz dazzled. There were times when he hit running forehand passing shots that were so savage that the crowd did not know whether to gasp or roar. Usually, they did both.

And every so often, at crucial points or when he made spectacular winners, Alcaraz would turn to the crowd and raise his fist, Tiger Woods-style. So we have mentioned Tiger and we have mentioned Tyson. Alcaraz is in that vein. In the States, they would call him ‘a phenom’.

And on Centre Court, Djokovic was his straight man. The greatest men’s player of all time reduced to a straight man, a foil for the new guy. The king is dead, long live the king. It can happen that quickly in sport and it happened in front of our eyes on Sunday.

Charging in, exploring his limits, enjoying his talent, Alcaraz was all about expression, power, freedom and daring.

He looked raw, too. That is the scary thing. When he learns how to fully harness his power, he may be untouchable.

In the end, Djokovic looked worn down by Alcaraz. Worn down by everything. It had started getting to him early in the second set, after he had blown Alcaraz away 6-1 in the first. Alcaraz got lucky with a net cord that gave him a break point and the crowd cheered wildly. Djokovic applauded them sarcastically, laughing at the way they cheered a piece of luck.

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There were other moments like that. Djokovic had won 15 consecutive tiebreaks before this match and he had a point to win his 16th at the end of the second set on Sunday. But he blew it with an uncharacteristically weak backhand. Alcaraz won it instead. That felt like an omen.

Midway through the fourth set, as Djokovic forced his way back into the match and the crowd tried to will Alcaraz on, the old champion turned and blew the crowd a sarcastic kiss after he clinched a game. He tried to use the adversity ranged against him to fire him to more defiance.

Djokovic sarcastically blew a kiss to the crowd as the seven-time champion showed defiance

Djokovic sarcastically blew a kiss to the crowd as the seven-time champion showed defiance

Djokovic smashed his racket into the net post when Alcaraz secured the decisive final break

Djokovic smashed his racket into the net post when Alcaraz secured the decisive final break

Centre Court may have witnessed Alcaraz replace Djokovic at the top of the men's game

Centre Court may have witnessed Alcaraz replace Djokovic at the top of the men’s game

But when Alcaraz broke him in the third game of the fifth set, it was as if Djokovic could finally sense that he had lost his power. He walked towards his chair and smashed his racket into the net post so hard that it buckled.

Up in the stands, next to Gangway 211, away to one side of the Royal Box, Andy Murray sat and watched from a seat among the spectators. Maybe that was an ill omen for Djokovic, too.

The last time he had lost on Centre Court was the 2013 Wimbledon final when Murray was on the other side of the net. That defeat was a blip for Djokovic, the prelude to greater and greater triumphs.

The defeat to Alcaraz felt different. It felt like the end of Djokovic’s time at the top. It felt like the day when we watched him grow old.

new balance



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