How Carlos Algarz tamed Wimbledon champion ‘Lion’ Novak Djokovic

In more than a decade, 45 players have not beaten Novak Djokovic on Center Court. Andy Murray managed it in the Wimbledon final on July 7, 2013.

The Serbian went 34 consecutive matches unbeaten at the All England Club, winning the trophy in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022 (the event was not played in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic), and reached the final this year.

Before that match on Sunday, Djokovic had won 60 of the 65 sets played at Grand Slams in 2023. He had won the last 15 tie-breaks in those three matches.

Oh, and he had the small matter of 23 Grand Slam titles in his locker and everything those experiences taught him.

However, on Sunday, she lost a tie-break and lost in three sets – and with it, her Wimbledon title.

Carlos Algarz is different.

Different from all the players who have tried and failed to stop Djokovic here, different from anyone who came before him. You don’t have to believe me for that; I send you to Djokovic.

“To be honest, I’ve never played with a player like him.”

After winning last year’s US Open, Algarz, the world No. 1 at 19, is the youngest player to reach the top of the rankings and, at just 20, the youngest player in the top 50. Now, he is also the third youngest player. Male champion at Wimbledon since turning tennis professional in 1968, succeeding Boris Becker (1985) and Björn Borg (1976).

BC (before Carlos), no player has won the Wimbledon men’s title since Djokovic was born in May 1987.

78 times Djokovic has taken the first set at Wimbledon, he has won.

Not today.

So how did Algarz tame the player he described as a “lion” before Sunday’s final?

Well, he’s on Djokovic’s serve, for starters — from the second set, of course. The defending champion faced several break points in the final (19). After Djokovic lost just three service games in his six matches, Algarz broke his serve five times in five sets en route to the main event.

(Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The fifth game of the third set would have been Djokovic’s most painful break. Already down a break, Algaraz would not win in a mammoth 26-minute match that included 32 points and seven break points.

The Spaniard hit 66 winners to Djokovic’s 32, including clutch moments.

What about unforced errors, I hear you ask? Well, he only scored five more runs than his opponent (45 to 40), so it’s not like he’s being too reckless. He often talks about playing aggressively – this is controlled, impactful aggression.

The speed at which Algaras mastered the grass was ridiculous. Before this Wimbledon he had played only three matches. In his previous two visits, he had never made it past the fourth round, and now he has won – against a player who is unbeatable on this surface. Algaraz has won 12 matches on grass this summer at Queen’s and Wimbledon.

So, what changed? Increasing his playing time at Queen’s and Wimbledon would certainly have helped. “Every time I hit the court, it feels good,” he said after winning the West London warm-up event last month. “I’m getting more experience and that’s really important on that surface.”

Algaraz is low-bouncing, occasionally goofy, and has been able to transfer his speed from the game’s clay and hard courts to the ground. That’s proven crucial here during his title-winning run. His movement is very measured and purposeful, and he rarely looks like he’s out of a point due to his confidence and recovery speed.

(Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Two months into his teenage years, he was as good on grass as he was on clay and hard courts. Djokovic, 36, nodded to it on Center Court after the match: “I thought you’d have trouble on hard courts and clay, but not on grass…”

Later, the dethroned champion expanded on it. “I have to say he surprised me. It surprised everyone how quickly he adapted to grass this year. He hasn’t had much success on grass in the last two years he’s been playing.

“I think the queen helped him a lot. He was beaten in that opening match at Queen’s (Algaras needed three sets to beat world No. 82 Arthur Rinderkneck 4-6, 7-5, 7-6). Then he started to gain momentum, He won against more and better players.

“The Wimbledon courts are slower than the Orange courts (the practice courts for this tournament) or the Queen’s courts. I think it’s more suited to bassliners like him.

“I have to say pieces, chipping returns kind of, net play; It is very interesting. I didn’t expect him to play so well this year on grass, but he has proven to be the best player in the world, no doubt.

“He’s playing some amazing tennis on different surfaces and he deserves to be where he is.”

When asked by Athletic What was the toughest thing about facing Djokovic earlier in the tournament was Algarz, who lost to him in four sets a month ago. Said the French Open semi-finalist: “Okay, pressure. I would say he puts pressure on everyone – not just me, everyone – to play their best for about three hours at a Grand Slam.

“I have to deal with it, but it’s something I really want. I hope to play here in the final against him. For me, it’s the hardest thing Novak will face.

On Sunday, Algaraz wanted to finish in three hours. In fact, they fought it for four hours, then another 42 minutes. But he certainly didn’t get that pressure he talked about in the fortnight.

“Credit Carlos,” Djokovic said. “Amazing poise in key moments. To deal with such nerves for someone his age, to play attacking tennis, to finish the match like he did… I thought I came back well in that last game, but he comes up with some amazing, amazing shots. .”

One of the best examples of that poise and fearlessness came in the second set tie-break. As the center court crowd chanted his name before the deciding point, the Spaniard fired a ferocious backhand winner past Djokovic to level the set. The atmosphere was electric, eliciting applause, and he put his finger in his ear as he made his way to his seat.

He then kept the momentum going, promptly breaking Djokovic in the opening game of the third set, which put him in a good position. That The game happened.

The entirety of the first set lasted 34 minutes; The fifth game of the third set went to 26. Algaraz broke again to go up 4-1. After he capitalized to win that game, the rest of the set felt like a formality. The 6-1 scores for Djokovic are not familiar. In his 71 Grand Slam appearances, this has happened only 13 times.

The fourth set was a forgettable one for Algaraz, with Djokovic taking it 6-3, but he regrouped in the fifth set and was now completely locked in. A few bullet forehands caught him down 1-0 in the next game, breaking his respect of three winners. He then broke to love for 3-1 and ended the match with an ace. He went up 4-2 and 5-3 at the end of his service games. Then there were two amazing winners when he served for the match.

Alcaraz kept his head while those around him lost their heads. In particular, two moments stand out. A Djokovic backhand into the net on set point in the tie-break of the second set. Then, a point later, another weak backhand found its way into the net, giving Algaraz a break point. He did his job properly.

“I would say the second tie-break (was my biggest regret in the tournament),” Djokovic said. “Honestly, the backhands let me down. Set point, I missed the backhand. He played a backhand that was long on the court, had a little bad bounce. But I shouldn’t have missed that shot.

“Then at 6-6, again, another backhand into the net from the middle of the court. Two really bad backhands. That’s it. The match turned on him. It turned. He raised his level a lot in the third. I wasn’t myself for a while.

There was also a costly missed drive volley in the final set when Djokovic had a break point at 1-0.

“We were able to regroup in the fourth and get the momentum back. I felt the momentum shift in my favor. That was my chance (run in the fifth start). That was my chance,” Djokovic said. “That break point, I think I played a good point, set up that drive volley.

“It was very windy today. The wind took it to a bad spot where I couldn’t hit a smash, I had to hit a drive volley. I saw him running right to the opposite corner. I wanted to foul him with that drive volley and I missed.

(Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Algaraz broke in the next game and then served for the match and the championship. The break that followed his miss angered Djokovic so much that he swung his racket around the net post.

At times on center court, Spider-Man looked like a relic – Djokovic must have felt like he was playing against himself. The same sights, the same movements, the same I-never-will-Always– Disposition to stop running.

“I think people have been talking over the last 12 months about Carlos’ game, which has elements from Roger (Federer), Rafa (Natal) and myself. I would agree with that. I think he’s basically the best of all three worlds,” Djokovic said.

“He’s got this determination and real maturity for a 20-year-old. It is very interesting. He’s got this Spanish-grass mentality of competitiveness and fighting spirit and incredible defense that we’ve seen with Rafa over the years.

“And I think he’s got some good sliding backhands. Yes, both arms are rear arms, safety, adjustable. I think that has been my strength over the years. He has it too.

(Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

“Honestly, I’ve never played a player like him. Roger and Rafa have their own strengths and weaknesses. Carlos is a complete player; I think amazing adaptability is a key to a long and successful career on all surfaces.”

Is this a changing of the guard? Let’s see, sitting on center court and watching Alcaraz go toe-to-toe with Djokovic and emerge with the Wimbledon trophy must have felt earthshaking.

(Top image: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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