The narrative surrounding men’s tennis changed in the split second it took for Novak Djokovic’s final forehand to hit the Centre Court net and fall to the grass.
A season that looked set to see the Serbian smash the records he has not yet claimed – a first calendar Grand Slam, an unprecedented 25th major singles title – instead has been turned on its head thanks to the brilliance of 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz.
By handing Djokovic his first Wimbledon defeat since 2017, Alcaraz has answered the one question that had been lingering – could he match and surpass the great Serbian on the biggest stage of all?
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In nearly five hours of spell-binding sporting theatre, the momentum fluctuated several times but in the end it was Alcaraz who seized his chance in a final game that demonstrated everything that makes the Spaniard such a special talent.
Wimbledon had seemed the least likely venue for him to topple Djokovic, such was the 36-year-old’s dominance and his young rival’s inexperience on grass, and, with his position as world number one strengthened, the era of Alcaraz may well be upon us.
“After this epic match, I think different about Novak in the way that probably in other tournaments, in other grand slams, I will remember this moment,” he said.
“I will think that, well, I’m ready to play five sets against him, good rallies, good sets, really long, long match and stay there physically, mentally, in tennis, in general. Probably it changes my mind a little bit after this match.”
Next month it will be Alcaraz who heads to New York as the defending US Open champion, while Djokovic has triumphed at Flushing Meadows just once in the last eight years.
There was no doubt this was a painful and unexpected loss for the Serbian, but also one that is likely to add fuel to the fire that burns so fiercely within him.
Asked if this could be the start of another great rivalry, Djokovic said with a smile: “I would hope so, for my sake. He’s going to be on the tour for quite some time. I don’t know how long I’ll be around.
“Let’s see. It’s been only three matches that we played against each other. Three really close matches. Two already this year in later stages of grand slams.
“I hope we get to play in US Open. I think it’s good for the sport, one and two in the world facing each other in almost a five-hours, five-set thriller. Couldn’t be better for our sport in general.”
The bumper TV audience and the stars from well beyond sport packed into Centre Court were testament to that fact and, health permitting, there appears no limit to what Alcaraz could go on to achieve.
One of the most staggering things about the 20-year-old is how quickly he learns under the guidance of former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero.
He had played just two tournaments on grass before arriving at Queen’s Club last month and almost lost his first match there to lucky loser Arthur Rinderknech.
He did not drop another set in taking the title and, only a few weeks after nerves caused him to cramp in the third set of his French Open semi-final against Djokovic, he proved superior over four hours and 42 minutes.
“I must say he surprised me,” said the Serbian. “He surprised everyone how quickly he adapted to grass this year. He hasn’t had too many wins on grass in the last two years that he played. Obviously him coming from clay, having the kind of style that he has.
“I think Queen’s helped him a lot. He was close to lose that first match in Queen’s. Then he started to gain momentum, more and more wins against really good players.
“I must say the slices, the chipping returns, the net play, it’s very impressive. I didn’t expect him to play so well this year on grass, but he’s proven that he’s the best player in the world, no doubt.
“He’s playing some fantastic tennis on different surfaces and he deserves to be where he is.”
Both men will now take a well-earned break before reconvening on the north American hard courts in August when Alcaraz, not Djokovic, will be the man to beat.