In a nail-biting drama on Sunday, Novak Djokovic defeated world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) to win the Cincinnati Open. He withstood a match point and oppressive heat.
After winning the nearly four-hour match to capture his third championship in Cincinnati and atone for his loss to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final last month, Djokovic fell to the ground and tore his shirt off.
“This was one of the exciting matches I’ve ever played in any tournament,” Djokovic, the winner of a men’s-record 23 Grand Slam titles, said during the postmatch trophy presentation. “It felt like a Grand Slam.”
The 36-year-old Djokovic survived the tournament’s longest men’s match since at least 1990 in near-90 degree heat to become the oldest man to win the title. Ken Rosewall won in 1970 at the age of 35.
The match was the longest best-of-three set final in ATP circuit history (since 1990) at 3 hours, 49 minutes.
When Alcaraz played a backhand winner to win the first set, the Serbian player appeared to be severely hindered by the high heat and scarcely moved.
Alcaraz took the lead at 4-2 in the second set, and it seemed as though the Spanish star may coast to victory despite spending more than 10 hours on the court this week.
However, Alcaraz would execute a poor serve performance with four unforced errors while leading 4-3, giving the world No. 2 life.
After winning a 25-shot rally in the second set tiebreak, Djokovic saved a match chance and went on to force a deciding set.
A angry Alcaraz slammed his hand into the plastic drink container next to his chair during the break before the third set, necessitating a medical timeout to tape his finger.
Djokovic broke for a 4-3 advantage in the final on his fifth attempt of the match.
The drama persisted as Djokovic lost two set chances before coming back and leading 5-3.
When Djokovic missed an overhead for a 5-5 tie, Alcaraz would break serve and save two additional match points.
Finally, a tiebreak was reached, which Djokovic won when the 20-year-old’s forehand return was wide.
The victory marked Djokovic’s 39th Masters 1000 triumph and 95th career victory.
“I have so much to say, but I’m not sure that I have the energy,” Djokovic said, cradling his trophy. He paused and looked at Alcaraz.
“You never give up, do you?” he said. “I love that about you. I hope we meet in New York. That would be fun — well, for the fans, not for me.”
The US Open starts on August 28. Alcaraz, the reigning champion, will undoubtedly start the competition as the number one seed.
“The match was pretty close,” Alcaraz said. “I’ll be back.”
With each player having won two games, Djokovic and Alcaraz met for the fourth time on Sunday.
“The feeling that I have on the court reminds me a little bit when I was facing [Rafael] Nadal when we were at our prime,” said Djokovic, who moved ahead of the Spaniard on the all-time men’s majors list after winning at Roland Garros in June. “Each point is a hustle. Each point is a battle. You’ve got to basically earn every single point, every single shot, regardless of the conditions.”
Djokovic compared Sunday’s lengthy encounter to the 2012 Australian Open final, which he won in 5 hours, 53 minutes against Nadal.
“I don’t think I’ve played too many matches like this in my life,” Djokovic told reporters. “You just have to put your hats down to a guy like that. He plays so maturely, handles the pressure so well for a 20-year-old.
“We cannot forget how young he is. That’s something that is so impressive about him.”
Said Alcaraz: “It’s great to hear those things from Novak, [who] has played iconic matches, storied matches. That means the team and myself, we are doing great work, we are on a good path.”