THE King of Spain, the future King of England and James Bond 007 were at Wimbledon’s Centre Court on Sunday for a historical tennis match. But the presence of Felipe VI, Prince William and Daniel Craig did not for one minute detract from the electrified interest in what was going on before of them.

One the greatest matches of all time was on display with a battle royal between Serbian Novak Djokovic, seven times winner of this particular tennis Grand Slam and undefeated in 47 matches on this hallowed court. And the sensational powerhouse, young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who has suddenly lifted the sport back its highest possible level of skill and speed.

 Djokovic had not lost here for 10 years when he was edged out by Andy Murray, who was also in this acclaiming packed house along with various other enthralled ex-champions. On Sunday the all-conquering Serbian came up against the intensely exciting Alcatraz who was clearly going to be a very serious contender for his long-held crown, winner of the 2022 US Open and just two weeks ago of the Queens Club tournament, a victory which brought him instantly to number one in the world.

 The standard of play was of the highest and the spectators, who were at their noisiest with every point won by the young Spaniard, made clear just who was their favourite. The combatants provided the pinnacle performance of the year. One of the coaches involved said afterwards it was like an acrobat up against a gymnast.

From the outset the match was intriguing as Djokovic and Alcaraz battled for the most sought after trophy in tennis, a 36-year-old and one of only 20 years with different and fascinating advantages –  long experience and almost fanatical ambition against a raw new talent trying to prove equal capability. Or would Alcaraz be fatally nervous from the beginning? Would Djokovic tire in a fifth set? 

 At the very start, almost before spectators had settled in their seats, Djokovic walked all over a clearly nervous Alcaraz 6-1 to give the appearance of a potentially easy three-set walk-over.

 One game later on required no fewer than 13 deuces and seven attempted breaks of service. But a bustling resistance quickly emerged from the Spaniard as he settled down to a contest of rocket drives and finessed short lobs. It came down, almost inevitably, to a final set. Could Djokovic at last make best use of his long serving tactics and experience? Could Alcaraz summon the grit to hold onto a narrow lead for victory? At 5-4 and 40-30 he dramatically did so with a cross-court drive that Djokovic could hardly have seen let alone deal with.

Through nearly five hours of endlessly spectacular play the result over five sets of magic and a smashed racquet by a momentarily infuriated Djokovic, the scoreboard showed 1-6, 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 and a win for the amazing new talent of Alcaraz     

The reign of Djokovic is not over. He promised to return in 2024. In the meantime a year of Alcaraz ahead is to be savoured. He is surely destined to become as great as Federer, Nadal, Sampras, Edberg, Borg, Becker and McEnroe.

*Legendary sportswriter John Kelley, who lived and worked in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe for nearly five decades, watches all sorts of sporting codes whilst enjoying his retirement with his lovely wife Barbara near Portsmouth, England. He is a regular contributor to this website as well as The NewsHawks.


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