Djokovic Saves MP, Stuns Alcaraz For Cincinnati Title

Three-set classic one of the best matches in ATP Masters 1000 history
August 21, 2023
Novak Djokovic celebrates his epic win over Carlos Alcaraz in the Cincinnati final. By ATP Staff

Novak Djokovic won one of the best matches in recent memory on Sunday when he saved one championship point en route to a 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4) victory against Carlos Alcaraz for the Western & Southern Open title.

The 36-year-old rallied from a set and a break down against the World No. 1 and saved a championship point at 5/6 in the second-set tie-break to earn a record-extending 39th ATP Masters 1000 title. Despite letting slip an opportunity to serve for the title at 5-4 in the third set, he bounced back to triumph after a gripping three hours and 49 minutes in which both men showed incredible shotmaking and mental fortitude. It was the longest best-of-three final in ATP Tour history (since 1990).

“Crazy. Honestly, I don't know what else I can say. Tough to describe. Definitely one of the toughest matches I've ever played in my life, regardless what tournament, what category, what level, what player. It's unbelievable,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “From the beginning 'til the end we've both been through so much, so many ups and downs, highs and lows, incredible points, poor games, heat strokes, coming back.

“Just overall, one of the toughest and most exciting matches I was ever part of and these are the kinds of moments and matches that I continue to work for day in day out. I was never in doubt that I can deliver the 'A' game when it mattered the most and [I am] just thrilled.”

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World No. 1 Alcaraz seemed in full control leading by a set and a break, and was two holds from capturing his Tour-leading seventh trophy of the season. This was on the back of a memorable Wimbledon final in which Alcaraz upset Djokovic in five sets to end his opponent’s dreams of becoming the first man to win the Grand Slam — capturing all four majors in one season — since Rod Laver in 1969.

Djokovic struck back Sunday in Ohio and although Alcaraz leaves Cincinnati as the No. 1 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, the Serbian will enter the US Open just 20 points behind and with an excellent chance to reclaim top spot because the Spaniard is defending 2,000 points at Flushing Meadows. 

”It's amazing playing against you, sharing the court with you, learning from you,” Alcaraz told Djokovic during the trophy ceremony. “This match was really close, but I learned a lot from a champion like you. So congratulations to you and your team.”

Djokovic Wins vs. World No. 1s

 Rafael Nadal  10
 Roger Federer  3
 Carlos Alcaraz  2
 Andy Murray  1

Djokovic was visibly struggling with the intense Cincinnati heat and was unable to find an answer against the top seed. But one poor Alcaraz service game at 4-3 in the second set slightly opened the door, and that was all Djokovic needed to spring to life. By the final-set tie-break, it was the 20-year-old who was struggling physically, cramping in his right hand. Djokovic finally converted his fifth championship point and fell to the court in celebration. 

The 95-time tour-level titlist escaped defeat in the second-set tie-break, in which he saved championship point behind his serve at 5/6 with a big serve-forehand combo. Djokovic found his best tennis in the critical moments to triumph. With the win Djokovic moved into outright third on the list of most career match wins with 1,069, passing both Rafael Nadal and Ivan Lendl, trailing only Jimmy Connors (1,274) and Roger Federer (1,251).

It was the pair’s third Lexus ATP Head2Head showdown in just more than two months (now tied 2-2 overall). After Djokovic triumphed in the Roland Garros semi-finals — in which his opponent ironically struggled with nerve-induced cramp — Alcaraz earned his revenge in a memorable five-set Wimbledon final.

“This rivalry just gets better. It gets better and better,” Djokovic said. “Amazing player. Tonnes of respect for him. For such a young player to show so much poise in important moments is impressive.”

Leading to the Cincinnati final, Alcaraz needed a deciding set in all four of his matches and spent 10 hours and 42 minutes on court, while Djokovic did not lose a set. But it was the latter who had difficulty with the hot conditions by the end of the first set. However, once Djokovic survived his early physical struggles, it was Alcaraz who cramped in his hand in the deciding tie-break.

As Alcaraz found his game in the first set, Djokovic, who played all his matches up until Sunday in the evening, was unable to click through the gears and instead began making unforced errors and was unable to take the initiative in rallies.

After Djokovic won the second set, the 36-year-old looked completely revitalised, drawing on the crowd. His younger opponent showed a rare moment of frustration by hitting the armrest next to his bench with his right hand. An ATP physiotherapist was then called to court to treat him. 

2023 Title Winners After Saving MP

 Novak Djokovic (Adelaide-1, Cincinnati)
 Wu Yibing (Dallas)
 Hubert Hurkacz  (Marseille)
 Holger Rune (Munich)
 Frances Tiafoe (Stuttgart)
 Christopher Eubanks (Mallorca)

The opening set was a tense start. Over 62 minutes, both men worked their way into the match and each had opportunities to take the advantage. But despite trailing 2-4, Alcaraz charged back to earn the lead.

On a hot day, both stars quickly used ice towels to try to keep themselves cool during changeovers. For the first eight games of the match, rallies were almost entirely played from the baseline, with the players trying to find their range from deep in the court. Neither was at his very best.

Alcaraz often varied the height he hit the ball over the net, but was unable to take advantage of early openings with errors off his typically devastating forehand wing. But as the set wore on, the Spaniard began to find his range on the backhand, while Djokovic hit one neutral backhand that bounced before the net. After getting back on serve, Alcaraz earned the deciding break of the set by rushing the 36-year-old’s forehand.

It was not until Alcaraz made a slew of unforced errors when serving at 4-3 in the second set that the tenor of the match changed. Djokovic began moving forward and consistently showed excellent hands at net. 

That proved pivotal in the second-set tie-break, when under pressure the Serbian served and volleyed behind a second serve, hitting two perfect backhand volleys from a precarious position to escape trouble.

On Alcaraz's championship point, the 20-year-old did not have a good look to take matters into his own hands, as Djokovic hit a big serve and crushed a short forehand. The 23-time major winner is now 24-5 in tie-breaks this season after winning a tie-break in both the second and third sets.

Djokovic was relentless in pursuit of the title. At 3-3 in the decider, he converted his fifth break point of the game when Alcaraz missed a backhand into the net. The Spaniard saved four championship points to get back on serve, but was unable to rally to the trophy.

Did You Know?
Djokovic, 36, is now the oldest champion in tournament history, breaking the record set by 35-year-old Ken Rosewall. Alcaraz, 20, was the youngest finalist at the event, since 19-year-old Pete Sampras in 1991. Djokovic also broke a tie with Ivan Lendl for third-most tour-level titles on record, now standing alone in third with 95. Only Jimmy Connors (109) and Roger Federer (103) have more.

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