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Djokovic outlasts Alcaraz in nearly 4 hours for title in Cincinnati

Djokovic was playing his first tournament on U.S. soil in two years because of COVID-19 restrictions

Novak Djokovic (SRB) celebrates the victory over Carlos Alcaraz (ESP) during the mens singles final of the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament at Lindner Family Tennis Center.
Novak Djokovic (SRB) celebrates the victory over Carlos Alcaraz (ESP) during the mens singles final of the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament at Lindner Family Tennis Center.Katie Stratman (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

Novak Djokovic outlasted Carlos Alcaraz in a thrilling rematch of their Wimbledon final, winning 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) on Sunday to take the Western & Southern Open.

In a match that lasted 3 hours, 49 minutes, the longest best-of-three sets final in ATP Tour history (since 1990), the No. 2-seeded Djokovic avenged his loss last month to the top-ranked Alcaraz and earned his 95th career title, passing Ivan Lendl for third among men in the professional era, dating to 1968.

In the women’s final, seventh-seeded Coco Gauff became the first teenager in more than 50 years to win the Western & Southern Open with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Karolina Muchova.

Djokovic was playing his first tournament on U.S. soil in two years because of COVID-19 restrictions. He secured his third Cincinnati championship in six years on his fifth match point when Alcaraz went wide with a forehand return.

The 36-year-old Serbian fell on his back, arms and legs spread, before heading to the net to shake hands with his Spanish opponent. He then strutted around the court and ripped his shirt apart from the buttons on down.

“This was one of the most exciting matches I’ve ever played in any tournament,” the winner of a men’s-record 23 Grand Slam titles said during the post-match trophy presentation. “It felt like a Grand Slam.”

With temperatures hovering near 90 degrees, Djokovic survived the tournament’s longest men’s match since at least 1990 to become the oldest man to win the championship. Ken Rosewall was 35 when he won in 1970.

The rematch of Alcaraz’s five-set victory at Wimbledon broke the previous Cincinnati record of 2 hours, 49 minutes, set in 2010 as Roger Federer was beating Mardy Fish. It’s the longest three-set match on the men’s tour this season by three minutes.

“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 U.S. Open begins Aug. 28. Alcaraz, the defending champion, is guaranteed to remain No. 1 heading into the tournament.

The tiebreakers were Alcaraz’s fourth and fifth in four matches during the week. He went three sets in every match, while Djokovic didn’t drop a set until Sunday.

“The match was pretty close,” Alcaraz said. “I’ll be back.”

Gauff, the 2022 French Open runner-up, earned her first Masters 1000 title when Muchova sailed a forehand return wide on Gauff’s fourth match point. The 19-year-old American tossed her racket in the air and jumped up and down in glee after surviving a 1-hour, 56-minute match played in temperatures approaching 90 degrees.

“This is unbelievable,” Gauff said during the post-match trophy presentation. “I’m just happy to be here for this moment.

“I want to congratulate Karolina for an incredible run in this tournament,” she added. “Hopefully, we’ll play more often, and on a bigger stage than this.”

Gauff was the tournament’s fourth teenage finalist and first since Vera Zvonareva in 2004. She is the first teenage champion since 17-year-old Linda Tuero in 1968.

After a spotty first set that featured a combined five service breaks, including Gauff’s double fault on one game point, Gauff gained command over her Czech Republic opponent with a break in the eighth game.

She fought off two break points in the fourth game of the second set and took control with a break in the next game when Muchova sent a backhand wide. While winning the next game, Gauff caught a break with a winner off the net that left her with her left palm on her racket and looking up at the sky as if she was praying in gratitude.

She missed on three match points in the eighth game before closing it out.

“When I woke up this morning, the first thing I said was ‘Ouch,’” the 26-year-old Muchova said. “I knew it was going to be a tough task to win, especially against someone like Coco.”

The French Open runner-up will celebrate her birthday on Monday by moving to No. 10 on the WTA rankings.

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