Novak Djokovic has experienced everything possible on a tennis court during his trophy-laden 23-year career but said he has never faced a player quite like Carlos Alcaraz.
Alcaraz de-throned the 36-year-old Serb on Centre Court on Sunday, winning a riveting Wimbledon final with a game-style Djokovic later described as like facing a blend of the big three — himself, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer.
Subduing it proved beyond even his powers as his quest for a record-equalling eighth Wimbledon title and fifth in a row was thwarted, as was his bid to match Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam titles.
In winning his first Wimbledon, to go with his 2022 U.S. Open triumph against Casper Ruud, Alcaraz erased any doubts about his world number one status and avenged his cramp-affected loss to Djokovic in the French Open semi-final.
Djokovic, who had suffered only two Wimbledon defeats since losing to Andy Murray in the 2013 final, said he was surprised at how quickly the 20-year-old Alcaraz had mastered playing on all the sport’s surfaces.
“I didn’t expect him to play so well this year on grass, but he’s proven he’s the best player in the world,” Djokovic said after his 1-6 7-6(6) 6-1 3-6 6-4 defeat.
“I haven’t played a player like him ever, to be honest. I think people have been talking in the past 12 months or so about his game consisting of certain elements from Roger, Rafa, and myself. I would agree with that.
“He’s got basically the best of all three worlds. He’s got this Spanish bull mentality, fighting spirit and incredible defence that we’ve seen with Rafa. I think he’s got some nice sliding backhands, some similarities with my backhands.
Djokovic, who looked irritated at times with the pro-Alcaraz crowd, was magnanimous in defeat. But he admitted there were some regrets after lacking his usual clinical ability to take chances when they came his way at crucial moments.
After outplaying Alcaraz in a one-sided first set, Djokovic then slugged out an 85-minute second and had a point for a two-set lead in the tiebreak but dumped a backhand into the net.
After battling back into the match and taking the fourth set, Djokovic then looked odds on to break serve for a 2-0 lead in the decider but made a hash of a high forehand volley.
Minutes later he dropped his own serve and disintegrated his racket into the net post in frustration.
“In the tiebreak in the second, the backhands kind of let me down,” he said. “Set point, I missed the backhand. A little bit of a bad bounce, but I should not have missed that shot.
“Then 6-6, another backhand from middle of the court in the net. That’s it. The match shifted to his side and I wasn’t myself for quite some time.
“I managed to regroup and regain the momentum midway in the fourth. I felt that the momentum shifted to my side. That break point (in the fifth), I think I played a really good point, but it was very windy and the wind took it to an awkward place where I couldn’t hit the smash.”
Djokovic received a warning for his racket-smashing antics, having had one for taking too long to serve at the heart of the second-set tiebreak. He was fortunate that the flying chunks of his racket did not make contact with an official or a fan.
“There’s not much to talk about that. It was frustration,” said Djokovic, who left a sizeable dent in the net post.