Carlos Alcaraz is preparing for a Wimbledon final for the ages…
The 20-year-old Spanish tennis star defeated Daniil Medvedev in straight sets on Friday to reach the Men’s Final, where the World No. 1 will face Novak Djokovic, who is chasing a calendar-year Grand Slam.
The “ultimate showdown”, as Djokovic called it, promises to be monumental in both its quality and its significance.
In addition to deciding who will claim the Wimbledon title — Djokovic is bidding for his fifth straight and eighth overall, while Alcaraz will contest his first final on Centre Court — the matchup will determine who leaves London atop the ATP Rankings.
It won’t be Alcaraz’s first rodeo in that respect: The No. 1 spot was also on the line when he beat Casper Ruud in his first major final at last year’s US Open. But a win against Djokovic, owner of a record 23 Grand Slam mens’ singles titles, might be even more significant.
“It gives you extra motivation. I think it’s more special to play a final against a legend from our sport,” Alcaraz said of the matchup. “If I win, it could be amazing for me. Not only to win a Wimbledon title but to do it against Novak would be super special.”
Alcaraz, 16 years Djokovic’s junior, is on the fast track to becoming one of the all-time greats of the sport himself. (The age gap is the third largest in a men’s major final.) Alcaraz has already proven his otherworldly talent on hard and clay courts, but this year his game has begun to sprout on the grass. Djokovic singled out his opponent’s successful adaptation on the lawns for particular praise, noting similarities to himself in that regard.
“I don’t think many people expected him to play so well [on grass] because his game is basically built and constructed and developed for clay mostly or slower hard courts. But he’s been incredibly successful in adapting to the surfaces and demands and challenges of opponents on a given day,” the Serbian said of Alcaraz.
“I see this as a great trait, as a great virtue. I see this as one of my biggest strengths throughout my career, that I was able to constantly develop, adapt, and adjust my game depending on the challenges basically. That’s what he’s doing very early on in his career.”
There is one key area where Alcaraz must evolve in order to avenge his semifinal defeat to Djokovic at Roland Garros. In Paris, the Spaniard had the wind in his sails after outplaying his opponent down the stretch of the second set. But with the match level at one-set all, Alcaraz began to suffer from cramps — an issue he blamed on nerves rather than fatigue.
Alcaraz is at his best when he’s playing with a smile on his face. But his joy was diminished by the gravity of his semi-final showdown against Djokovic — the pair’s first ATP Head2Head meeting at a major.
“I’ll try to pull out all nerves, try to enjoy that moment, because probably in the semi-final at the French Open I didn’t enjoy at all in the first set,” said Alcaraz, who will talk with his psychologist as part of his preparations for the final. “I’ll do something different from that match. I’ll prepare the match a little bit different from French Open. It’s going to be different for me. I hope not to get cramp during the final. I think I’ll be better on Sunday.”
While Alcaraz was the favorite in that Roland Garros matchup, he’ll face a different kind of pressure as the underdog at Wimbledon, where Djokovic is riding a 34-match winning streak. Adding to the stress is the size of the task before him: breaking down Djokovic’s watertight grass-court game.
“I have to get deep into [my tactics] because Novak has no weakness, so it’s going to be really tough to find the way to be danger for him,” the Spaniard said. “He’s a really complete player. He’s amazing. He does nothing wrong on the court. Physically he’s a beast. Mentally he’s a beast. Everything is unbelievable for him,” Alcaraz later added.
Djokovic has lost just three service games in his six Wimbledon wins this year, saving 16 of 19 break points. He had never been broken fewer than five times en route to any of his previous 34 Grand Slam finals. Alcaraz has dropped serve six times on 25 break points against.
In addition to his excellence on the court at Wimbledon, Djokovic has also proven to be quite the performer in front of the microphone this fortnight. Prior to his quarterfinal win against Andrey Rublev, he trialled a joke about his opponent’s “scary” grunts in the press room. After his win, he delivered a fine-tuned version of the line in front of the Centre Court crowd.
In that same on-court interview, the 36-year-old dropped one of the lines of the fortnight, describing the younger generation’s efforts to dethrone him at Wimbledon: “I know that they want to get a scalp, they want to win. But it ain’t happening, still,” he said with perfect comedic timing. “Very humble!”
As good as that was, Djokovic might have one-upped himself with his closing remarks in press, previewing the final.
“He’s very motivated. He’s young. He’s hungry,” he said of Alcaraz.
“I’m hungry, too, so let’s have a feast!” he added with a smile.