For decades, tennis was ruled by the Big 3. They were Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Between the Big Three the hierarchy changed, as Djokovic and Nadal overtook Federer’s Grand Slam tally and held a better win-loss record against him.
And then Djokovic became the unquestioned No. 1 last month in Paris when he won the French Open for his 23rd Grand Slam crown. It took him past Nadal, who is recovering from a long hip injury and attempting to return to the circuit next year.
It seemed the Big 3 club was reduced to the Big One – Djokovic. No one else was close to him. He is the most complete and mentally toughest player in the history of the sport. He can rain aces when he wants to, can chase any ball on the court thanks to his legendary elasticity and fire it back at a nagging length at his opponent. He can pound outright winners on both flanks even when he is seemingly out of position on the court.
On Sunday, however, Carlos Alcaraz defeated Djokovic in an epic Wimbledon final. Everyone knew Alcaraz was the most exciting prospect in the sport. But no one expected him to beat Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon, the biggest match of the year, at a tournament Djokovic has won seven times.
Alcaraz had only played three tournaments on grass before. He is just 20, and it was felt that while he might take a set off Djokovic, it was too early for him to beat a man going for a record 24th major.
The Spaniard got walloped in the first set, then took the next two. But when Djokovic won the fourth, the momentum was back with him and it seemed that the fifth would be a routine wrap for the Serbian lion, in his prime even at 36.
But it was Alcaraz, showing heart, nerves and shotmaking, who took the match. When he closed it out with a hard serve to Djokovic’s backhand followed by a thundering forehand crosscourt, he started a new chapter in the history of tennis. Call it The New Big Two – Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz.
Federer is retired. Nadal being the fighter he is cannot be ruled out. But for now it seems the immediate future of men’s tennis will be written – in blood and sweat – by Djokovic and Alcaraz.