Novak Djokovic required a demanding four-hour battle and five match points to secure a hard-fought victory against Carlos Alcaraz on Sunday, claiming his third ATP Cincinnati Open title.
The contest between the top-ranked players turned into an intense struggle, with Djokovic, visibly fatigued during the second set, managing to save a match point and eventually winning on his fifth match point. The final score was 5-7, 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/4) in favor of Djokovic.
“I struggle to find the words,” stated Djokovic, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, who required medical attention due to heat illness in the match’s second set. The match, lasting an impressive three hours and 44 minutes, tested endurance, resilience, and skill.
Djokovic shared, “The match was beyond description. It’s the toughest match I’ve ever played. From start to finish, we experienced highs, lows, incredible rallies, tough moments, battled heat exhaustion, and mounted comebacks.”
Summing up the grueling encounter, he stated, “Overall, this was undoubtedly the most demanding and exhilarating match I’ve ever participated in. Matches of this caliber are what keep me motivated to excel.”
This match added another captivating chapter to the growing rivalry between 20-year-old Alcaraz, the current top-ranked player, and the experienced 36-year-old Serbian icon. Djokovic avenged his recent loss to Alcaraz in the five-set Wimbledon final, bringing the head-to-head score to two victories each for the year.
During the match, Djokovic, extending his record with a 39th win at the prestigious Masters 1000 level, initiated a break in the opening set, securing a 4-2 lead as Alcaraz struggled. Shortly after, Alcaraz turned the tide and broke back to claim the first set at 6-5. Djokovic took a brief break from the court, returning for a change of attire.
The scorching conditions took a toll on Djokovic, evident when he sought medical attention in the second set. Despite the challenges, he mounted a comeback, breaking Alcaraz’s serve to level the set at 4-4, leading to a tie-breaker. Saving a match point at 5-6 in the tie-breaker, Djokovic forced the match into a decisive third set.
As tension escalated, Djokovic managed to break Alcaraz in the seventh game of the third set, a nine-minute affair with multiple break points. The seesaw battle continued, with Djokovic unable to convert a match point at 5-4. However, he eventually secured the victory in the longest best-of-three set final in tour history.
In a moment of both relief and triumph, Djokovic collapsed onto the court before rising to tear his shirt in half, celebrating the monumental win. Djokovic reflected, “I never doubted my ability to deliver when it truly counted,” expressing his confidence in his performance during critical moments.
Djokovic’s rivalry with Alcaraz continues to intensify, with Djokovic emphasizing, “The rivalry with Carlos is continually evolving and improving.”
Alcaraz’s strong showing ensured he would maintain his world number one ranking for the upcoming week and enter the U.S. Open as the top seed. For Djokovic, who chose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, this Cincinnati victory marked his return to U.S. tournaments after a two-year hiatus. His journey now takes him to Flushing Meadows, where he has secured three championship titles.