Djokovic collapsed on his back before ripping his shirt off after triumphing in the nearly four-hour contest to claim his third title in Cincinnati and avenge his loss to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final last month.
“It was one of the most exciting matches I’ve ever played in any tournament,” Djokovic, the winner of a men’s record 23 Grand Slam title, said at the trophy presentation after -match. “It was like a Grand Slam.”
With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, Djokovic, 36, survived the longest men’s game in the tournament since at least 1990 to become the oldest man to win the championship. Ken Rosewall was 35 when he won in 1970.
At 3 hours and 49 minutes, the match was the longest best-of-three-sets final in ATP Tour history (since 1990).
The Serbian player appeared hampered by the intense humidity at the end of the first set, barely moving when Alcaraz hit a backhand winner to grab the opener.
Alcaraz, who looked fresh despite more than 10 hours on the pitch this week, took a 4-2 second lead, and it looked like the Spanish star might reach the finish line.
But Alcaraz would produce a terrible service game while leading 4-3 that included four unforced errors to bring the world No. 2 to life.
In the second set tiebreaker, Djokovic saved a championship point and then forced a tiebreaker after winning a 25-shot rally.
During the break before the third set, a frustrated Alcaraz slammed a hand against the plastic container next to his chair, requiring a medical time-out to tap his finger.
In the deciding match, Djokovic broke on his fifth chance of the match for a 4-3 lead.
The drama would continue as Djokovic squandered two match points by coming back and leading 5-3.
Alcaraz would save two more match points and break serve when Djokovic missed a pass for 5-5.
The players eventually came to another tiebreaker, which Djokovic won when the 20-year-old’s forehand return widened.
The win was Djokovic’s 95th career title and 39th Masters 1000 crown.
“I have so much to say, but I’m not sure I have the energy,” Djokovic said, cradling his trophy. He stopped and looked at Alcaraz.
“You never give up, do you?” he said. “I love it about you. I hope we meet in New York. That would be fun — well, for the fans, not for me.”
The US Open begins on August 28. Alcaraz, the defending champion, is guaranteed to remain No. 1 heading into the tournament.
“The game was pretty tight,” Alcaraz said. “I’ll be back.”
Sunday’s encounter was the fourth between Djokovic and Alcaraz, with each player winning two games.
“The feeling I have on the pitch reminds me a bit of when I was against [Rafael] Nadal when we were at our peak,” said Djokovic, who leapfrogged the Spaniard on the list of all-time men’s majors after winning Roland Garros in June. “Every point is a hustle. Each point is a battle. Basically, you have to win every point, every shot, regardless of the conditions. »
Djokovic compared Sunday’s marathon match to the 2012 Australian Open final, when he beat Nadal in 5 hours and 53 minutes.
“I don’t think I’ve played too many matches like this in my life,” Djokovic told reporters. “You just have to take your hat off to a guy like that. He plays with so much maturity, handles pressure so well for a 20-year-old player.
“We can’t forget how young he is. It’s something that is so impressive about him.”
Alcaraz said: “It’s great to hear these things from Novak, [who] played iconic matches, historic matches. It means that the team and I are doing a great job, we are on the right track.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.