WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Regrets? Novak Djokovic has two.
There was that tiebreaker pretty early in the Wimbledon final on Sunday, when the 36-year-old Serb was one point from taking a two-sets-to-none lead over his 20-year-old opponent, Carlos Alcaraz.
And then there was that missed volley on break point early in the fifth set with all the momentum at that stage going the seven-time Wimbledon champion's way.
"Some regrets," Djokovic said after losing 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in a high-energy and highly entertaining championship match on Centre Court. "I had my chances. I think I could have closed out that second-set tiebreaker better. But credit to him for fighting and showing some incredible defensive skills, passing shots that got him the break in the fifth.
“He was a deserved winner today, no doubt.”
Djokovic has been a deserved winner on so many occasions in the past. Seven times right here at the All England Club, where he was one victory from matching Roger Federer with a men's record eight titles at the grass-court Grand Slam. And 23 times overall at major championships, tied with Serena Williams for the most in the Open era, which began in 1968.
Back in 2019, for instance, Federer was going for his ninth Wimbledon title while Djokovic was the defending champion. Federer had two match points in the fifth set, but Djokovic saved them both, forced a tiebreaker at 12-12 and then ran away to claim his fifth championship.
“I’ve won some epic finals that I was very close to losing,” said Djokovic, who had earlier mentioned those match points in his on-court interview during the trophy ceremony. “Maybe this is kind of a fair-and-square deal, I guess, to lose a match like this for me here.”
After breezing through the first set on a windy day, the pair traded breaks of serve early in the second ahead of the eventual tiebreaker.
Djokovic took a 3-0 lead, and having won his last 15 tiebreakers in Grand Slam play, it was looking good for the four-time defending champion. But Alcaraz won three straight points, including a 109 mph ace, to get back even. Then, with a set point and Alcaraz serving at 6-5, Djokovic put a backhand into the net. And then another.
“The backhands kind of let me down, to be honest,” Djokovic said. "Set point, I missed the backhand. He did play a backhand that was quite long in the court, had a little bit of a bad bounce. But I should not have missed that shot.
“Then on 6-all, again, another backhand from middle of the court in the net. Just two very poor backhands. That’s it. The match shifted to his side. It turned around.”
Djokovic hasn't missed too many of those shots over the years. In fact, his last loss at Wimbledon was way back in 2017 when he retired in the second set from his quarterfinal match with an injury. His last loss on Centre Court was in the 2013 final against Andy Murray.
“Beating Novak at his best, in this stage, making history,” Alcaraz said, “being the guy to beat him after 10 years unbeaten on that court, is amazing for me.”
That other point Djokovic mentioned? The other regret? That miss was even more surprising — especially coming from a guy who has made a career of making shot after shot and waiting for his opponents to mess up.
Alcaraz was serving in the second game of the final set and Djokovic had what looked to be an easy volley to break for a 2-0 lead — the kind of lead he doesn't often relinquish. But his forehand went into the top of the net instead of over it, allowing Alcaraz to recover. In the very next game, the Spaniard broke, giving him the edge he needed to win his second major title after last year's U.S. Open championship.
“I managed to regroup and regain the momentum midway in the fourth (set),” Djokovic said. "I felt that the momentum shifted to my side. That was my chance. That was my opportunity. That break point, I think I played a really good point, kind of set up that drive volley.
“It was very, very windy today. The wind kind of, yeah, took it to an awkward place where I couldn’t hit the smash, I had to hit the drive volley kind of falling back. I saw him perfectly running to the opposite corner. I kind of wanted to wrong-foot him with that drive volley, and I missed.”
Chris Lehourites, The Associated Press