Djokovic Defeats Ailing Alcaraz At Roland Garros
The 36-year-old Serbian came out firing in the generational battle on Court Philippe-Chatrier, pulling the 20-year-old Spaniard around with destructive and consistent groundstrokes to win the first set. Alcaraz and Djokovic went blow to blow, with both demonstrating exceptional agility and movement in a high-quality and engrossing opening first two sets.
After Alcaraz levelled the match, he started to cramp in the right calf at the start of the third set, and forfeited his service game at 1-1 so he could fast-forward to a changeover and be treated by an ATP physio. The Spaniard, who missed the Australian Open this year due to a leg injury, was unable to chase down shots and drive through the ball, with Djokovic moving back ahead. The third seed then soared through the fourth set against Alcaraz to advance after three hours and 23 minutes.
“First and foremost I have to say tough luck for Carlos,” said Djokovic in his on-court interview. “Obviously at this level the last thing you want is cramp and physical problems at the late stages of a Grand Slam. So I feel for him, I feel sorry. I hope he can recover and he can come back very soon.
“I told him at the net. He knows how young he is. He’s got plenty of time ahead of him, so he’s going to win this tournament I’m sure many many times. He’s an unbelievable player, an incredible competitor and a very nice guy, so he deserves all the applause and all the support.”
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Meeting for the first time this season, Alcaraz and Djokovic have waged a neck-and-neck battle in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 2023, trading the top spot four times. Following his 26th win of the season, Djokovic will surpass Alcaraz and return to World No. 1 if he defeats Casper Ruud or Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s final.
The two-time Roland Garros champion Djokovic, who is into his 34th major championship match and seventh in his past eight majors, is the second-oldest finalist in tournament history (since 1925).
Sixteen years his junior, Alcaraz was the youngest man to advance to the semi-finals at Roland Garros since a then-20-year-old Djokovic did in 2007. The top seed captured his maiden major title at the US Open last year, but will not add to his tally in Paris after he struggled physically to stay with Djokovic during Friday’s semi-final.
“It’s tough. Obviously for him to not know whether he should retire [from] the match or finish the match the way he did," Djokovic said. "Congratulations to him for his fighting spirit and hanging in all the way until the last point. Respect for that, great respect.
“I think we were both at the physical limit towards the end of the second set. I wasn’t feeling fresh at all. We went toe to toe. I think it was a quite even match, one-set-all, and then this thing happened with his cramp in the third game of the third set and from that moment onwards it was a different match. Obviously I just tried to stay focused, to stay present, and I saw that he was struggling, but I obviously didn’t want to think too much about what was going on the opposite side of the net. Again, respect for hm and I hope he comes back very quickly.”
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Set One, Djokovic 6-3
Djokovic was locked in from ball one in Friday's encounter. He struck his groundstrokes through the court with depth, while he moved forward consistently, closing the net 13 times in the set to pressure Alcaraz. After breaking in the fourth game, the Serbian fended off three break points in a mammoth game at 4-2 as Alcaraz began to find rhythm from the baseline. The top seed then held serve to lead.
Set Two, Alcaraz 7-5
At 1-1 in the second set, Alcaraz demonstrated his all-court game to full effect. He showcased great speed and touch to chase down a Djokovic drop shot, before retrieving to the baseline to hit fire a squash like behind the body forehand winner, drawing applause from the Serbian.
Alcaraz started to dig in during the baseline exchanges, playing with high intensity as his power began to force Djokovic, who received a medical timeout in the set, to overhit. The 20-year-old made 68 per cent of first serves in the set and recovered from squandering three set points on Djokovic’s serve at 4-5, 0/40, breaking Djokovic's serve at 6-5 to level.
Set Three, Djokovic 6-1
Alcaraz then began to cramp in the third set. Rather than continue and risk causing further damage to his leg, the 20-year-old opted to forfeit his service game at 1-1 in order to receive immediate treatment from the physio on Court Philippe-Chatrier. The 20-year-old continued but was unable to chase down shots, with the Serbian outlasting the Spaniard in the baseline exchanges to move back ahead.
Set Four, Djokovic 6-1
The Spaniard went for a toilet break at the end of the third set to try and find a second wind. He had two break points on Djokovic's serve at the start of the set but was unable to take them and from there, the Serbian ruthlessly raced clear. He limited errors off the ground and forced the tiring Alcaraz, who was far from his physical best, around the court with his variety of spins to improve to 1-1 i their ATP Head2Head series.
Did You Know?
Djokovic now holds a 80-4 record when claiming the first set at Roland Garros, winning 35 in a row. His last loss after clinching the opener came in the 2015 final against Stan Wawrinka.