Carlos Alcaraz is no Boris Becker and that is more significant than Federer beating Sampras

There it is charming Michael Jordan story from the time when the aging Magic Johnson was still basketball’s undisputed goat. It is from the pre-Olympic camp in 1992, when the Dream Team was split in two for a practice game. What was supposed to be a routine morning workout turned out to be a clash of big egos with no one giving an inch. Jordan was on that day, his electric play reminding Johnson that his magical fade, he wasn’t completely invincible.

After the game, as Johnson sat next to another legend of his generation, Larry Bird, wiping sweat, Jordan swore at the greats. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” he said with a sly smile. With a throaty laugh, Johnson told Bird: “He’s not lying”.

It is said to be basketball’s epic moment of power change, just as it was at Wimbledon on Sunday when Carlos Alcaraz beat world tennis’ unsurpassed GOAT, 23-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic. The 20-year-old from the Spanish village of El Palmar, known for its tall palm trees, made a grand announcement from the famous turf that a new sheriff was in town. And he didn’t lie.

Power, ambition

There were those who saw a 17-year-old Boris Becker in him. As was the case in the 1985 final, this too was a display of brute force and audacious ambition of the youngsters who defied the odds. Others at Wimbledon were reminded of the epic changing of the guard match in the fourth round in 2001 when Roger Federer had defeated Pete Sampras.

However, this was different. Becker was a 17-year-old rookie and Alcaraz had entered Wimbledon as the World No.1 and was defending the US Open. Federer had it easy as Sampras was well past his prime. Alcaraz faced the best tennis player the world had ever seen, who was at the peak of skill. This is not the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one. This is also the start of an all-court rivalry for the ages.

Men’s tennis had been waiting for the Gen Next champion to emerge for a long time. Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer had called out many challengers and made them look like frauds. But Wimbledon 2023 will be remembered for the Grand Slam, when tennis discovered the true champion, the ‘real deal’ that had it in it to shake the foundations of the old firm.

Alcaraz had won the US Open, but it was a tournament that Djokovic had missed. Late in the evening, in the presence of commoners and royalty, Alcaraz won a Slam that had no star. It was the kind of new dawn that the suits at the ATP had been asking for for years. After the loss, Djokovic would sneak in a line that would have been music to the game’s marketers and fans. “I thought I’d have trouble with you on clay and maybe hard, not on grass!” the 36-year-old Djokovic told the new sensation standing on the green, which he had owned for the past 10 years. “It was a great way to adapt to a surface you might have played once or twice before this year! Great, great.”

No free running

With Federer retiring and Nadal on the verge of quitting, there was a sense that Djokovic would have a free run. This epic five-setter proved that no matter the surface, there would always be Alcaraz in the draw to ensure the Slams remain competitive.

On Sunday, Alcaraz had an answer for every trick the Serbian tried. Djokovic had a flying start, but he couldn’t pull away. He tried to slow down the pace of the match by taking his time between points, but that didn’t break the youngster’s rhythm. The old hand increased the pace of his shots and went for the lines – that didn’t work either. Alcaraz matched him shot for shot, volley for volley, serve for serve.

At the end of the third set, when Djokovic took a long break, there was a feeling that a new novak will soon emerge from the tunnel, just like before. He had done that before, against the best in the world. He returned rejuvenated, the magical transformation was there to see. He also threatened to walk away from the match. Djokovic won the fourth set after the break and looked set to claim his 24th Slam. But in the 5th, Alcaraz showed he wasn’t just another upstart or even one of his old rivals. He didn’t crack under pressure or suffer a brain bleed.

Faced with immense pressure, he hit precise groundstrokes that were fierce and deep. His serve remained unwavering. Once in the final moments of the deciding set, he played a delicious drop shot and followed it up with a lob that Djokovic saw sail over his head. The match was far from over at that point, but it was a turning point for tennis. Perhaps it was at this moment that the defending champion realized that the new sheriff was well and truly checked in.

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