Tennis has been blessed with three absolute legends of the game over the past two decades. 65 grand slam titles and 96 grand slam finals between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic sum up their astonishing consistency and longevity. As much as the fans appreciate what each individual has brought to the sport, deep down there has always been a sense of waiting for the next big star to emerge and offer new competition. From Grigor Dimitrov comparisons with Federer, to Denis Shapovalov’s famous victory over Nadal in Montreal as an 18-year-old, to Alexander Zverev’s straight sets win to claim the title over Novak at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals. Countless young players have been touted as potential candidates to dethrone the Kings. Unfortunately for most, they haven’t quite lived up to those high expectations. You can even go way back to Hyeon Chung to the more recent Nick Kyrgios that just can’t quite break into the very top calibre of the elite. Despite the old guard being able to win at least one major during a ridiculously competitive period including Juan Martín Del Potro, Marin Čilić, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray, for the most part, they haven’t been able to sustain the required consistency (you can argue that Murray is an exception.) That just speaks volumes to the big three’s remarkable stamina to remain at the very top of the mountain, and perhaps, they aren’t so human. In a way, the changing of the guard has arrived by default due to Federer’s retirement, Nadal’s injury issues limiting the Spaniard to one more year on the tour, and Novak isn’t getting any younger at 36. The power has slowly been shifting for some time, just that Djokovic has delayed the handing over of the baton as he is still showing no signs of slowing down. Daniil Medvedev has been breaking down the door the longest and has been successful in dismantling Djokovic at the US Open final in straight sets before being one set away from winning the Australian Open against Nadal. Greek favourite Stefanos Tsitsipas also succumbed to a two-sets-to-love lead against Djokovic at the French Open final two years ago after he had famously knocked out Federer at Melbourne Park in 2019. Add Jannik Sinner into the mix with his blistering power and unquestionable ability, the future looks to be in safe hands. However, those few players just mentioned are currently not at the same level as Djokovic. Medvedev may have been the Serbian’s biggest threat for a short while, but a 20-year-old by the name of Carlos Alcaraz now rightly owns that tag. The Spaniard’s 1-6 7-6(6) 6-1 3-6 6-4 triumph over Djokovic in the epic Wimbledon final put the world on red alert that the current world number one will be the new king to be hunted down. From on the verge of embarrassment to pulling himself together and finding composure, Alcaraz proved that he, unlike most of the potential challengers before him, has the mental capacity and ferocious spirit that draws comparisons to his compatriot in Rafa. A highlight reel for the ages, some of his shots and executions in big moments were scintillating to the point where the crowd could do nothing but savour it through standing ovations. Drop shots, cross-court forehands, depth, power, pace, IQ, you name it: This kid truly has it all and we are witnessing another generational talent before our very eyes. The most impressive part about Alcaraz’s game though is his defence, providing Novak with a taste of his medicine and getting beaten at his own game. Medvedev is also known for acting as a brick wall behind the baseline, but what separates Alcaraz from that upper-class tier is the all-round mastery. Make no mistake, one of Djokovic’s biggest strengths is the ability to neutralise his opponents’ weapons and ask questions about whether they are too one-dimensional.
Although this was the case in the first set, the reigning US and Wimbledon champion displayed a mix of variety that all of a sudden had the 23-time grand slam champion having to answer those exact same questions. After the gruelling four-hour and 42-minute encounter, Novak gave his rival the greatest of compliments. “People have been talking about his game consisting of certain elements from Roger, Rafa, and myself. I’d agree with that. He’s basically got the best of all 3 worlds… I haven’t played a player like him ever.” That is the opinion shared by many, and on top of that, the two-time major winner has conquered the fear of grass, admitting during the post-match ceremony that he has “fallen in love with grass.” Along with Sinner, Alcaraz is now comfortable on all three surfaces, except the former is yet to reach the pinnacle. Players can come and go in a heartbeat and they can also hover around the top tier without actually breaking through. We see it time after time in the sport. What is rare though is generational talents making their mark and proving their worth at such a young age. Carlos Alcaraz Garfia is that rarity, and tennis is extremely fortunate to have yet another dynamic superstar who will transcend the game to new heights. Felipe VI, king of Spain, was in attendance to watch Alcaraz lift the most prestigious trophy in the sport. How fitting that he was there to celebrate the changing of the crown.