A lip-smacking final is on the cards on Sunday at Wimbledon. One that will see the old order clash with the new, and no one really knows what the outcome might be.
On the one hand, it will be Novak Djokovic, who has declared with a smile that though his opponents want to win, “It ain’t happening.”
And throwing him a challenge is the new poster boy of the sport, Carlos Alcaraz.
Djokovic, the defending champion, though seeded second, is perhaps favoured to win.
And I don’t want him to.
Not because he is not a worthy champion, but because it is time for the baton to change hands and there is someone who is good enough to take over.
Djokovic is almost the last man standing of the Big Three, though Rafael Nadal is still lurking in the corner, waiting to be fit again and add a title or two to his impressive kitty. Djokovic, the man with the most, 23 grand slam singles titles to be exact, is still in no mood to give his opponents any leeway.
He is also eyeing another landmark at this Wimbledon — Roger Federer’s eight titles. He only needs one more to stand together with the iconic Swiss.
But standing in his way is Alcaraz. He has his own credentials to defend. He is the reigning world No. 1 and the top seed here. But only rankings and seedings cannot and do not define the talent that this 20-year-old has. He is the most exciting thing that has happened to tennis in many many years.
Barely out of his teens, he is already a master of his craft. One look at him on court, and you know you are seeing someone very special.
Novak Djokovic. File photo
He has power, speed, tremendous court coverage, excellent variety of shots. And above all, he has a cool head on his shoulders that has kept him grounded even after having defeated the likes of Djokovic and compatriot Nadal.
Can he beat Djokovic on Sunday? In his own words: “It is going to be incredibly difficult but I will fight.” After steamrolling Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-final, that is the mood the youngster was in.
What will happen if Djokovic wins? Not much will change in the world of tennis. The same order that has been the norm for decades now — the grand slams will, mostly, be won by the Big Three — will be maintained. Yes, there will be reasons to celebrate Djokovic’s achievements, to admire the records that he will reset.
But it will not be the same if Alcaraz wins. The ripple that started when he won the US Open in 2022 should now become a wave which will be indicative of the tsunami to come. Because that is what Alcaraz has the potential for.
A good 16 years is the age difference between the finalists. One with tremendous talent and experience and the other, blessed with the kind of skill most can only dream of, is still trying to get comfortable at the top. That place may soon become permanently his own, unlikely to be shared.
The difference in the number of grand slam titles is 22, Djokovic’s 23 to Alcaraz’s 1. But the two have met only twice (both times on clay) and the honours are even.
While Alcaraz defeated Djokovic at the 2022 Madrid Open, Djokovic got the better of him at Roland Garros this year, both in the semi-finals.
On grass, the trickiest of surfaces, the duo will fight it out. Djokovic has already won the Australian and French Open this year. Alcaraz lost in the third round in Melbourne and bowed out to the Serb in Paris in the semi-finals.
That may tilt the scale towards Djokovic. But, a victory for Alcaraz will give a new shade to the tennis horizon. It may become the affirmation that is needed to see Alcaraz as the next GOAT. It will be a harbinger of more exciting years ahead.
It is time, perhaps, for the new order to take over.