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Carlos Alcaraz is Centre Court’s new darling but beating Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon 2023 may be a stretch

Alcaraz dazzles this crowd but may go some to topple Djokovic should they meet in the Wimbledon men’s final on Sunday

CENTERE COURT — Wimbledon provide a plethora of stats but the number of “oohs” and “ahhs” per match are not counted. If they were, Carlos Alcaraz would surely lead the way.

The 20-year-old has sampled the Centre Court experience just four times but already it feels as though the arena has its new darling, 733 days after Roger Federer walked off for the very last time.

Of course, as we have seen recently, Federer will get standing ovations for as long as he comes back to grace the royal box, but now Alcaraz is the player getting supporters out of their seats as well – oohing, ahhing, living every point he plays.

This is nothing new for those who have closely followed Alcaraz’s career, but it sometimes takes a Wimbledon run to go mainstream, particularly for a British audience, with a few primetime slots doing no harm for a player’s exposure.

And so, on Monday evening against Matteo Berrettini, here was the reigning US Open champion showcasing his talent to 15,000 inside this court and likely millions more around the country and beyond. Late matches bring in bumper TV audiences, Wimbledon organisers said on Monday, and here was their ideal outcome – a match that started just before 6pm and concluded by 8.53pm.

No curfew concerns this time, and while the beaming smile of Alcaraz can be seen from every seat, his roar stretches even beyond the closed roof – a “¡Vamos!” that told of his relief at reaching a first Wimbledon quarter-final. The first of many.

“I know it was going to be really tough. Matteo is a great player, he made the final here. He’s playing great and of course it’s not easy,” Alcaraz said afterwards. “It was not easy coming back from the first set but I had to stay focused. I’m really happy after a great match.

“I’m hungry for more [that a quarter-final]. Last year I lost in the fourth round, I’ve come this year with that goal. To get into the quarter-final, but I’m looking for more. My dream is to play a final here and win a title. I hope to reach that dream this year.”

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates as he wins a point against Italy's Matteo Berrettini in a men's singles match on day eight of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Monday, July 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Carlos Alcaraz has a roar that booms beyond Centre Court (Photo: AP)

Next for Alcaraz is 20-year-old Holger Rune, the No 6 seed, and it will be the first time two male players under 21 play a grand slam quarter-final against one another in the Open era.

“That’s great,” Alcaraz added. “The young guys are reaching their dreams, coming here and playing the quarter-finals together – it’s great for tennis. We said when we were playing a lot of tournaments at 12 years old, passing all the categories. Playing a quarter-final against him I am going to enjoy. It’s something for the fans to enjoy as well.”

It was credit to Berrettini though that the crowd were so engrossed in this match. The popular 2021 finalist has spoken openly about his comeback from various injuries, and having been world No 6 as recently as January 2022, his experience here countered the fact he was unseeded.

With few expecting a three-setter, Berrettini still knew the importance of getting his nose in front, and saving three break points was crucial to the Italian edging the first set 6-3.

A winner-to-unforced-errors count reading 7-7 in the first set for Alcaraz then read 13-3 in the second, a valuable swing that allowed the Spaniard to level the match.

From drop shots to lobs, and then a cross-court forehand winner that had even (or make that especially) the Spanish press purring, Alcaraz continued to dazzle and crucially offered Berrettini no break-point chances in the third, and though he failed to convert eight himself, the fact he managed to do so twice allowed him to take a 2-1 lead.

The first serve was not exactly firing, that break conversion rate lower that he would have liked, but with all else that follows the neutral cares not, and providing he wins his followers do not care either. As proved to be the case when, after the roof came on, after four match points, when clinched the fourth set to advance 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

And as he goes along, Alcaraz is collecting followers in spades. He’ll hope to eventually collect grand slams by the dozen, too, starting with a second on Sunday.

There he could face Djokovic – 10 years unbeaten on Centre Court – in the potential final on everyone’s lips. Top seed against the defending champion. The prince and the king. The one-time grand slam winner and pretender to the throne against the player with more majors than any other male.

Djokovic wins it, probably, maybe, unless Alcaraz can iron out the errors, but there will be few prizes for guessing which player would have the majority of support should they meet in the final. Alcaraz might just need that, too.

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