Wimbledon postmortem: nerves and the new rivalry

What a cracking men’s final that was on Wimbledon Centre Court on Sunday. In comparison, the women’s final was a letdown.

The Tunisian favourite, Ons Jabeur, froze on the brink of realising her dream of lifting the Wimbledon trophy. This is the third Grand Slam final she has lost and it was her best chance. She had some fantastic scalps along the way, including getting her revenge against Elena Rybakina in a replay of last year’s final, but that’ll be of little consolation. The so-called “Minister of Happiness” looked pretty tortured on that final day against the unseeded Czech left-hander, Markéta Vondroušová, who won fairly comfortably in straight sets. It’s not so much the losing but the manner of losing. Jabeur basically blew it with nerves, playing well below her best. She will find it hard to forgive herself.

In contrast, Carlos Alcaraz, the 20-year-old Spaniard, kept his composure, even at the most critical moments in his final encounter against the holder, Novak Djokovic.

He had plenty of reasons to lose his nerve. Alcaraz had barely played on grass before this year, but he proved to be a quick learner, improving with every match. Centre Court, Spanish as well as British royalty and, in his opponent, tennis royalty — a seven times Wimbledon champion. And yet Alcaraz came through in a five-set thriller.

There were two key moments, one being Novak’s uncharacteristic unforced errors in the second set tiebreak which helped hand it to his opponent by 8-6. The Serb hadn’t lost once in his previous 15 tiebreaks, so this was some breakthrough. And then there was that 25+ minute service game in the fourth set, where the Spaniard finally triumphed on his seventh break point.

And yet, in the opening stages of the fifth set, the odds were stacked against him when the Serb had a break point to lead 2-0. However, the Spaniard held firm, then broke serve and clung onto the lead. Serving at 5-4 for the Championship would normally reduce any young player to jelly, but Carlitos held his nerve, playing some spectacular and courageous points. He ran out the winner on his first match point.

Novak had lost a couple of sets earlier on in the tournament but, on the whole, he breezed through to the final. He was the clear favourite and this was all beginning to get a touch predictable.

But now we have a new rivalry for supremacy in men’s tennis, albeit one which may not be very long-lasting, due to the huge age gap. Novak Djokovic is now 36, Carlos Alcaraz is 16 years younger. Although Novak still looks to be in fine fettle, it can’t be too long before his game starts to decline. So let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Djokovic leads the men’s field in the Open era with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, ahead of Nadal and Federer. (In women’s tennis, Margaret Court won 24.) But it’s no longer unthinkable that Alcaraz, with two Slam titles already under his belt at the age of 20, could overtake him. His coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, reckons he could end up on 30.

So, could there be another blistering final between these two at the US Open in September? The Spaniard may be the holder at Flushing Meadows, but after Wimbledon the Serb will be itching for revenge. It’s going to be intriguing.

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