MADRID - Carlos Alcaraz cements himself as the man to beat on the ATP tour, playing one of the best matches of the year to earn his first win over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) and reach the Mutua Madrid Open final.

Fresh off a milestone victory over childhood idol Rafael Nadal, Alcaraz was not only taking on the world No. 1 for the first time in his young career, but the teen also managed to pull off the rare feat of beating both Nadal and Djokovic at the same tournament after three hours and 38 minutes on Manolo Santana Stadium. Arriving to court with a heavily strapped ankle—which he injured against Nadal on Friday—the 19-year-old nonetheless enjoyed a bright start in his first match against the Serb, breaking early and edging within two games of the first set.

Perhaps an on-paper underdog given Alcaraz’s supreme momentum, Djokovic has nonetheless been rounding into form after missing much of the year due to his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The world No. 1 reached his first final of 2022 at home in Belgrade, and played one of his best matches of the season to reach the semifinals—defeating Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in an 80-minute straight-setter without dropping serve. Keenly aware of Alcaraz’s potential to be “the future of men’s tennis,” Djokovic rallied from a 2-4 deficit, leveling the encounter and dominating the inevitable tiebreaker, outmaneuvering the Spaniard to earn four set points.

Alcaraz, who turned 19 earlier this week, saved three with his now-signature mix of effortless variety, but blinked on the fourth—to Djokovic’s inimitable delight—and netted a backhand to put himself a set behind.

With a 55th career ATP Masters 1000 final in sight, Djokovic’s superior consistency carried him through the start of an equally tense second set, one in which Alcaraz threatened to break serve in a pivotal sixth game.

On the brink of defeat, Alcaraz saved two break points to keep Djokovic from serving out the contest, matching the Serb’s intensity with an enthusiastic hold of his own and putting the pressure back on the top seed.

Djokovic responded like few others can, roaring back from 0-30 down to even the second set and earn yet another break opportunity in the very next game. Alcaraz shook off a lost 40-15 lead to save the break point with an audacious drop shot. The youngster made no mistake on his second 0-30 lead, earning three set points and converting the second with a drop shot reply that brought the home crowd to its feet.

Stamina proved Djokovic’s undoing at the end of a grueling week in Belgrade and it would again be put to the test early in the decider: Alcaraz drew him into the first long service game of the decider, forcing him to save three break points before emerging with a hold.

Serving with a hand injured after a mid-rally stumble, Djokovic fell behind two more break points after a drop shot miss, but saved both and made his first move on the Alcaraz serve, engineering his first break point of the set. Alcaraz saved it but both men continued testing each other on return; after taking turns digging out of 0-30 holes, the No. 7 seed was first to five games.

With the match’s quality at an absolute peak, Alcaraz ripped an inside-in forehand to earn match point only for Djokovic to save it with his sixth ace of the afternoon; the two would ultimately end the match as it began: with a Sudden Death.

The two traded mini-breaks throughout the tiebreak, but it was Alcaraz who maintained his lead to find himself up two more match points. Djokovic would save one more but find no relief on the third. Alcaraz would not be beaten with near-perfect stats, after striking 51 winners—35 on the forehand alone—and winning just under 75% of points played on his first serve.