Novak Djokovic has stated on multiple occasions that his goal while learning tennis as a child in Serbia, was to be World No. 1 and win Wimbledon. While he already holds the all-time record for most weeks spent on top of the ATP Rankings (389) and has lifted the winner’s trophy at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club seven times, he will go into Sunday’s summit clash against Carlos Alcaraz, the current World No. 1, highly motivated as multiple records are within touching distance.
By beating the 20-year-old Spaniard, Djokovic can equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Majors. Only Serena Williams has been in this position before the Serbian, but she fell at the final hurdle on four occasions.
However, in Djokovic’s case, the opportunity comes at a place where he has been invincible in the last decade - the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Since his defeat to Andy Murray in the 2013 final, Djokovic has won 45 consecutive matches on the hallowed grass, the most recent one being a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4) victory over young Italian Jannik Sinner in Friday’s semifinal. It is the longest streak by any player since the court was opened in 1922.
Like the last three editions, Djokovic entered The Championships this year without playing a warm-up event, but that did not faze him a bit as the four-time defending champion, seeded second, began the tournament with three straight sets wins. Hubert Hurkacz, his fourth-round opponent who famously beat Roger Federer in his final match at Wimbledon in 2021, did cause some problems though.
“I don’t recall being so helpless on the return games, to be honest. I knew that he’s a big server and he’s a fantastic player, on the grass particularly, but I didn’t expect him to serve this well and this accurately,” the 36-year-old Djokovic had said after his 7-6(6), 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-4 win.
But overall, he has been superior to the rest of the field in terms of his movement on the surface, playing well in clutch moments and staying mentally tough - case in point being the “hindrance” call given against him by chair umpire Richard Haigh in the semifinal which was soon followed by someone heckling the Serbian. That is something his final opponent, Alcaraz will have to try to match to have a chance.
Alcaraz did not have much to show on grass, unlike other surfaces, until this season. The reigning US Open champion had played only two tournaments previously - the last two editions of the grass Major with his best result being a fourth-round finish. However, the Spaniard played a warm-up event at Queen’s this time and improved immensely in those five matches on the way to winning the title.
At The Championships, he faced his toughest tests against big servers such as Nicolas Jarry and 2021 runner-up Matteo Berrettini and while the top seed did drop a set each in those two games, his problem-solving ability and the propensity to come out triumphant bodes well. His straight-sets semifinal win over third seed Daniil Medvedev, another man with a similar playing style to Jarry and Berrettini but with perhaps lesser power, made him the youngest finalist at SW19 since his compatriot Rafael Nadal in 2006.
He is high on confidence. “I will believe in myself that I can beat him (Djokovic) here. It is going to be a tough challenge but I have dreamt about playing a final here since I started playing tennis,” said Alcaraz in his on-court interview.
Not too long ago, Alcaraz experienced what it is like to be up against one of the best returners in the sport at a Major. He faced Djokovic in this year’s French Open semifinals - their first Grand Slam meeting - where the match was competitive for the first two sets before the Spaniard started cramping and surrendered in the next two. Alcaraz later attributed the drop in his physical fitness on court to the mental nervousness of facing Djokovic, who knows how to peak at the Majors.
Alcaraz remembers that feeling and is ready to avoid a similar situation this time. “Physically, I’ll do the same, what I was doing before the matches. Probably, in the mental part I will do something different, to stay calm, to show that I’m not nervous. Some exercise in the mental part. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll do some exercise to stay calm and to forget - or I’ll try to forget that I’m going to play a final against Novak,” he said in his post-semifinal press conference.
One way or the other, the result of Sunday’s final is going to be monumental. A victorious Djokovic will clinch his fifth straight Wimbledon title, something which only Bjorn Borg and Federer have achieved amongst men. It would also make him the joint-most decorated man at The Championships alongside the Swiss maestro. Win for Alcaraz would make him the third-youngest male Wimbledon champion in history after Borg and Boris Becker. The cherry on top - the champion will be the top-ranked player in the ATP Rankings on Monday.
Djokovic has already hyped up the final, calling it, “Probably the most anticipated finals from the beginning of the tournament, from most of the people.”
However, he has also, jokingly, made it clear how the contest is going to be - “He’s young. He’s hungry. I’m hungry, too, so let’s have a feast.”
Played: 1 | Alcaraz: 1 | Djokovic: 1
|6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1
|6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5)
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