WIMBLEDON: Novak Djokovic knows a thing or two about the talents and intangibles required to win big matches against the best players. He's been in 35 Grand Slam finals. He's won 23 of them. He played Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer a total of 109 times, with head-to-head edges against both. He went 9-5 against them in title matches at majors.
So it seemed only natural to ask Djokovic to whom he'd compare the new star of men's tennis — Carlos Alcaraz — after losing to him across five sets and more than 4 1/2 hours brimming with brilliant play and dramatic moments in the Wimbledon final on Sunday.
"People have been talking in the past 12 months or so about his game consisting of certain elements from Roger, Rafa and myself. I would agree with that," Djokovic began, the bitterness of the 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 defeat, and the end of his reign at the All England Club, still sharp.
"I think he's got basically (the) best of all three worlds," Djokovic said.
Left there, that would stand out as a rather striking endorsement of the precocious Alcaraz, a Spaniard who won the U.S. Open last year and now is one of just five men to collect multiple Grand Slam trophies before turning 21.
Then Djokovic got into specifics.
"He's got this mental resilience and, really, maturity for someone who is 20 years old. It's quite impressive," said Djokovic, who had won Wimbledon four years in a row and seven times in all.
"He's got this 'Spanish bull' mentality of competitiveness and fighting spirit and incredible defense that we've seen with Rafa over the years."
With a smile, Djokovic tacked on what he sees of himself in the youngster.
"He's got some nice sliding backhands that (have) some similarities with my backhands. Two-handed backhands. Defense. Being able to adapt. That has been my personal strength for many years," Djokovic said. "He has it, too."
When the gist of that assessment was relayed to the No. 1-ranked Alcaraz, his eyes widened and he exhaled under the white bucket hat that became his trademark news conference accessory.
Alcaraz was asked how he would describe himself.
"It's crazy that Novak (would) say that, honestly. But I consider myself a really complete player. I think I have the shots, the strength physically, the strength mentally, enough to (handle) these situations," he said. "Probably he's right. But I don't want to think about it. ... I'm 'full Carlos Alcaraz,' let's say, but probably I have some great ability from every player."
Living up to expectations is never easy, and so much has been expected of Alcaraz. Somehow, he is living up to all the hype. He brings abundant athleticism, quickness, strength and reflexes to the game. He is equipped with a booming forehand and the touch to implement the softest of drop shots.
He produced more than twice as many winners as Djokovic on a windy afternoon, 66 to 32. He broke five times across 23 return games Sunday — something that Djokovic's prior six opponents managed to accomplish just three times across 103 games.
He hit serves at up to 135 mph at Wimbledon. He showed an adroitness at the net. He performed in the clutch against Djokovic, coming back from a set point down in the tiebreaker, winning a 32-point epic of a game in the third set and saving a break point early in the fifth before converting his own chance to assume the lead for good.
"I haven't played a player like him ever, to be honest," said Djokovic, who at 36 was poised to pip the legendary Roger Federer as the oldest men's champion at the All England Club.
"Roger and Rafa have their own, obviously, strengths and weaknesses. Carlos is a very complete player. Amazing adapting capabilities that I think are a key for longevity and for a successful career on all surfaces."
One sign of greatness is doing things no one else has — or that haven't been done in a long while.
In August, Alcaraz will head to New York to defend a US Open title that made him, all in one fell swoop, the first teenager ever to top the ATP rankings, the first teenager to win the men's championship at Flushing Meadows since Pete Sampras in 1990, and the first teenager to win any Slam trophy since Nadal at the French Open in 2005.
Now he is the first man other than Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, or Andy Murray to win Wimbledon since 2002. When Sunday's classic contest ended, Alcaraz went into the stands to share the moment with his father and other family members.
"Giving them a big hug, it's something that I will never forget," Alcaraz said. "I hope to have a photo from that moment, 'cause I'm going to keep it forever."
If he remains on this trajectory, there should be plenty of other trophies, hugs and photos to follow.