Carlos Alcaraz Is Not Your Average Next-Gen Player
Carlos Alcaraz Is Not Your Average Next-Gen Player 

There’s a new heir to the throne

It’s hard to pinpoint a precise moment the empire starts crumbling. It happens slowly, then suddenly. You could argue, but the signs are always there—the aging of a ruler, internal conflicts in the manor, or the unchecked power of a new rival. But these signs became evident only in retrospect, once the disintegration was complete. Centre Court in London is familiar with such rise and fall of empires. Roger Federer built a mansion here, winning the Wimbledon title on eight occasions, and was inches away from claiming his ninth when his nemesis Novak Djokovic handed him perhaps the deadliest blow of his career.  


On Sunday at the same venue, Djokovic was almost certain of claiming his eighth championship, but on his way stood the stormy idea of Carlos Alcaraz. Djokovic tried hard to hold his ground, fighting till the last moment as he always does, but still fell short of winning what could have been his third successive major of the year. In doing so, Alcaraz also ended Djokovic’s unbeaten streak at Centre Court that lasted beyond a decade. 


To see it as a collapse of Djokovic’s empire, an empire that he has built with so much defiance and devotion that even a devastating defeat like yesterday’s wouldn’t deter him from a rebuilding exercise, would be a far-fetched conclusion. But this could be the moment that would reshape the destiny of men’s tennis in years to come. After a series of false dawns, Alcaraz decided to take things into his own hands, stretching the veteran warhorse to places that not many have managed to do so in the recent past. He invaded the air of invincibility that Djokovic had when it comes to best-of-five sets. And he did this after losing the first set in a dramatically comic fashion.  



Perhaps the moment that embodied the tenacity of Alcaraz was not one of the numerous insane cross-court forehands he hit or the cheeky drop shots that got his opponent wrong-footed, nor was it his resolute defence on both wings. It was, rather, an ungainly outburst from the 23-time Grand Slam champion, when he slammed his racquet into the net post after losing a point. The visuals of a deformed racquet lying on the grass mirrored how unforgiving Alcaraz had been the whole evening.  


There were different layers of nuances to Alcaraz’s craft that belied his age and experience. For most of the game, he dictated the pace, tempo, basic rhythm, and structure of the points. When exchanging lightning and going for the first strike didn’t work in the first set, Alcaraz quickly made a sort of course correction and stopped giving any pace to the other end. He looked content with playing the game of patience, simply putting the ball on the other side rather than going for audacious, low-margin winners. He was more relaxed, more nimble, and more patient. Djokovic caught a bug, his unforced errors flowed, his serve abandoned him, and a routine backhand dropped across the line. This is a very familiar script though.  


There are times when Djokovic almost forgets the basic functions of the game for an extended period, and his opponents become the epitome of perfection. Everything feels like a grand conspiracy against him. Suddenly, the beast inside Djokovic awakens, he starts playing like a dream, and hustles to victory. It happened yesterday too as Djokovic managed to extend the game to the deciding set. The drama played out almost to the script, but Alcaraz did just enough to ensure the epilogue is different this time.  



“I haven’t played a player like him ever, to be honest,” Djokovic said. “Roger and Rafa have their own obvious strengths and weaknesses. Carlos is a very complete player. Amazing adapting capabilities that I think are a key for longevity and for a successful career on all surfaces.” 


In close to five hours of an exhilarating final, Alcaraz underwent a very captivating character arc, from a nervous, over-excited challenger to a calm-head, composed champion. Alcaraz not only justified the unreal hype around him but also signaled that he is ready to be the face of the sport in the post-Big-Three era. And could there be any bigger advertisement for tennis than a 20-year-old prodigy having shattered the calendar grand slam dreams of arguably the greatest tennis player of present times?  

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