Has Alcaraz finally signalled changing of the guard?

Has Alcaraz finally signalled changing of the guard?

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For so long, the question had been: “Why can’t the next generation stop Novak Djokovic?”

Carlos Alcaraz, frozen by fear at the prospect of playing Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals, finally did it.

Not only did the Spaniard beat Djokovic in a Grand Slam final, he beat the 36-year-old Serb at the place where he has been unbeatable in recent years.

Amid a feverish atmosphere on Centre Court on Sunday, the 20-year-old won a thrilling five-set final to claim the Wimbledon men’s singles title.

It stopped Djokovic winning a fifth successive title at SW19, an eighth men’s title at the All England Club and a 24th major overall – all record-equalling feats.

Echoing the thoughts of many onlookers, nine-time Wimbledon men’s doubles champion Todd Woodbridge described Alcaraz’s win as a “changing of the guard”.

“I did it for myself, not for the tennis generation, honestly,” said Alcaraz, who became the first player to beat Djokovic on Centre Court since the 2013 final.

“Beating Novak at his best, in this stage, making history, being the guy to beat him after 10 years unbeaten on that court, is amazing for me.

“But it’s great for the new generation, as well, I think to see me beating him and making them think that they are capable to do it.”

It has long been asked which players would take on the men’s game after the careers of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal – who is set to retire next year – and Roger Federer, who called it a day last year.

Djokovic was bidding to win the seventh of the past nine Grand Slams he has played in, having already claimed the Australian Open and French Open titles this year.

Although the Melbourne victory came in a tournament where Alcaraz was ruled out through injury, the young Spaniard was unable to stop him in Paris.

Alcaraz saw his hopes in last month’s much-anticipated semi-final against Djokovic ruined by full body cramps caused by nerves.

The aura of the then 22-time major champion loomed large. Factoring in Djokovic’s technique, tactics, mentality on the court and resilience off it, he has created a formidable figure which has overawed his younger opponents.

In the past five seasons, Djokovic has lost only eight of the 52 matches he has played against opponents under the age of 23.

Added to that, Alcaraz was only the second younger opponent – after Daniil Medvedev at the 2021 US Open – to beat Djokovic in a Grand Slam final since 2020.

Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have dominated the sport for much of the past two decades, with Alcaraz becoming the first man to win multiple Grand Slams since Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka in 2016.

The Spaniard is also the first man other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Andy Murray to win Wimbledon since 2002.

Alcaraz’s all-round game is a joy to watch. As well as power from the baseline, he has a deft touch around the net and is able to cover the court with his athleticism.

Some have said Alcaraz’s style takes elements from each of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.

“I would agree with that. I think he’s got basically the best of all three worlds,” said Djokovic.

“He’s got this Spanish bull mentality of competitiveness and fighting spirit and incredible defence that we’ve seen with Rafa over the years.

“And I think he’s got some nice sliding backhands that have got some similarities with my backhands. Two-handed backhands, defence, being able to adapt.

“I think that has been my personal strength for many years. He has it, too.

“I haven’t played a player like him ever, to be honest. Roger and Rafa have their own obviously strengths and weaknesses.

“Carlos is a very complete player. Amazing adapting capabilities that I think are key for longevity and for a successful career on all surfaces.”

Djokovic, who turned 36 in May and claimed “36 is the new 26” in the build-up to Sunday’s final, has no plans to retire yet and showed again this fortnight his powers are not waning.

But with the end of his career coming into view, Alcaraz is primed to take over at the top for the long haul.

Alcaraz became the only teenager to become the men’s world number one when he won the US Open last year and remains top of the rankings by claiming his second major title at Wimbledon.

Such has been his emergence, a few of the players once heralded as the ‘next generation’ to succeed the ‘big three’ may be concerned they have missed the boat.

“Who’s going to match this kid for the next few years?” asked 1987 Wimbledon winner Pat Cash. “It’s hard to see anybody.”

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