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Gracious Djokovic philosophical in defeat to Alcaraz

  • Matt Trollope

Motivated so strongly by chasing greatness and achieving history, Novak Djokovic was on the brink of more at Wimbledon in 2023.

One more match win, in Sunday’s final, would have delivered him an eighth Wimbledon title, the same number as men’s record holder Roger Federer. It would have been a 24th Grand Slam singles title, equalling the all-time record held by Margaret Court.

He would have also been three-quarters of the way to a calendar Grand Slam, something he said he wanted another shot at in New York later this year.

Those targets elude him, for now, after his loss to Carlos Alcaraz in that Wimbledon final.

So it was especially impressive to hear him speak with such perspective immediately after an emotionally-draining five-set loss, spanning almost five hours. 

Gracious as ever in defeat, he warmly congratulated and complimented Alcaraz after the 20-year-old upstaged him on a court on which he had not lost in a decade. 

“You never like to lose matches like this,” Djokovic said, with a rueful smile. “But I guess when all the emotions are settled, I have to still be very grateful, because I won many, many tight and close matches in the past here.

“To name a few, 2019 against Roger in that final, where I was match points down, maybe I should have lost a couple of finals that I won.

“So I think that this is even-Steven,” he added with a little laugh.

When his emotions had settled, slightly, by the time of his media conference, he maintained the same outlook.

“As I said on the court, I've won some epic finals that I was very close to losing. Maybe this is kind of a fair-and-square deal I guess to lose a match like this for me here,” he said.

“Credit to Carlos. Amazing poise in the important moments. For someone of his age to handle the nerves like this, be playing attacking tennis, and to close out the match the way he did... I thought I returned very well that last game, but he was just coming up with some amazing shots.

“Some regrets. I had my chances. I think I could have closed out that second-set tiebreaker better. 

“But credit to him for fighting and showing some incredible defensive skills, passing shots that got him the break in the fifth.

“He was a deserved winner today, no doubt.”

What was especially notable about this match was that, as it unfolded, all signs indicated another Djokovic triumph. 

He won the opening set 6-1, a terrible scenario for Alcaraz given Djokovic had never lost a match at Wimbledon after winning the first set, nor any of his past 104 matches at Grand Slam tournaments by doing the same.

Novak Djokovic (R) embraces Carlos Alcaraz after Alcaraz won their 2023 Wimbledon final. [Getty Images]

He went ahead 3-0 in the second-set tiebreak, and later earned a set point – which made sense, given he had won his past 15 tiebreaks at major tournaments. 

After his trusty backhand let him down and he lost the second set – Djokovic revealed “I wasn't myself for quite some time” – the Serb responded, as he always does. He levelled the match and surged at Alcaraz in the fifth, earning break point in the second game, and making another move by reaching 15-30 in the sixth game.

But it was the inexperienced Alcaraz, not the 23-time major champion, who remained steadier. The plot did not follow its typical course.

“I haven't played a player like him ever, to be honest,” Djokovic declared.

“I must say he surprised me. He surprised everyone how quickly he adapted to grass this year.

“The slices, the kind of 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.”

Alcaraz was the world No.1 entering Wimbledon and stays at top spot, somewhere Djokovic could have been had he won the final.

And the pair now share the sport’s four major trophies between them.

Everyone is excited for the next installment of their developing rivalry. Djokovic included.

“I hope we get to play in US Open,” he said. 

“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, so why not?”