Changing of the guard is a term that gets thrown around a lot in sports, and especially recently in tennis, considering that the era to end all eras is unquestionably entering its twilight period.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have collectively dominated the men’s game over the last 20 years in a manner that is unlikely to be replicated in our lifetime, sharing 65 of the last 80 Grand Slam titles between them since Wimbledon 2003. However, with Federer’s recent retirement and Nadal’s seemingly impending one, Djokovic has been standing alone this year as the member of the “Big 3” keeping the next generation at arm’s length.
This year’s Wimbledon final between Djokovic and current World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz felt significant, both in terms of assessing the extent of Novak’s supremacy and for their burgeoning rivalry.
This year’s Wimbledon final between Djokovic and current World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz felt significant, both in terms of assessing the extent of Novak’s supremacy and for their burgeoning rivalry. They have been the two best players over the course of the 2023 season, but Djokovic, as he so often does, has risen to the occasion when it mattered most, capturing the first two Grand Slams of the year, in Melbourne and Paris.
The French Open is where we first saw Djokovic and Alcaraz meet at Grand Slam level. It was a slight anticlimax, with the young Spaniard having to retire at the start of the third set due to stress-induced cramping. Psychologically, this could have had long-standing consequences – if Djokovic had dispatched Alcaraz comfortably in straight sets at SW19, then there would be a silent suggestion that, while Alcaraz has achieved an incredible amount for a 20-year-old, he lacked the mental edge over Djokovic to properly challenge his status at the top of the game.
He proved that he could do what so many others before him could not: defeating the Serbian legend in a Grand Slam Final.
Yet when Alcaraz collapsed on the Wimbledon turf having sealed victory in the epic, five-set thriller that unfolded, it did feel like a Moment with a capital M. Not just in stopping Djokovic from attaining more records, but in proving that he could do what so many others before him could not: defeating the Serbian legend in a Grand Slam Final.
It acts as a statement to both Djokovic and the rest of the tour that, even at such a young age, he has the ability to play without fear and bring his best tennis to the biggest stages. There is no doubting Alcaraz’s tennis ability – despite the obvious associations with Nadal, he plays like a hybrid of Federer and Djokovic, combining the former’s baseline-hugging offensiveness with his rival’s remarkable counterpunching abilities.
It’s common knowledge that he’s miles clear of peers of similar age, despite the impressive recent emergence of players like Casper Ruud, Holger Rune and Jannik Sinner. But this second Grand Slam establishes him as a global sporting star and a figure who can move the men’s game out of one era and into another, just as Federer did over 20 years ago.