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PARIS, France – Novak Djokovic was in a perfect place on Friday, June 9, after his much-awaited French Open semifinal clash against a cramping Carlos Alacaraz ended in abrupt fashion, 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1, and left him with a record 23rd men’s Grand Slam title within touching distance.
The highly anticipated contest between the world No. 1 and the two-time Roland Garros champion was suddenly effectively over after two high-octane sets – the kind of feeling you get at a disco when the music is turned off and the lights are switched on.
“Obviously this was a big win today under the circumstances that were obviously a little bit strange, especially in the third and fourth. But a win is a win,” Djokovic told a press conference after his 46th semifinal at a major.
On Sunday, he will look to also become the first man to win each Grand Slam at least three times as he faces last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud of Norway.
A flawless Ruud returned to the French Open final for a second year running by dismantling German 22nd seed Alexander Zverevm 6-3, 6-4 ,6-0, in a battle of big-hitters.
Being at the foot of the winner’s platform in Paris is enough for Djokovic, who will start Sunday’s showdown as the overwhelming favorite.
“I put myself in another really ideal position to win a Grand Slam. That’s basically what still drives me when I wake up in the morning and think about the season and think about things I want to achieve,” he said.
34th Grand Slam final
“I’m thinking really just to win another Grand Slam title here on Sunday, and I’m so close. I know it. I know the feeling. I’ve had this feeling quite a few times in my career,” said Djokovic.
“So I know how I need to handle myself, my emotions, my day tomorrow, and after tomorrow, and to approach the finals in the best possible way.”
It will be Djokovic’s 34th Grand Slam final and even if he struggled against Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2021 to claim his second title in Paris and that he will be under tremendous pressure, the Serbian knows he will start with a slight advantage.
“Pressure is always on my shoulders, so it’s not going to be different. But it’s part of my sport, part of my life. I will play someone that already has been in a Grand Slam finals… [but] never won a title,” he said.
“But again, experience on my side, but does it win matches? I don’t think so. I just have to recover well, be prepared for another long battle, and, you know, after the finals, if I win, let’s talk about history.”
And the music will be back on and the lights off at the disco.
Alcaraz breaks down
An ailing Alcaraz ended the clash of titans in anti-climatic fashion.
Alcaraz had just leveled the contest when disaster struck as he limped to his bench holding his right leg at 1-1 in the third set.
While he continued playing, the US Open champion was clearly hampered by cramps but Djokovic was merciless, dropping only one of 12 games to book a spot for Sunday’s final showdown.
“It’s been really tough for me, honestly. I disappointed myself honestly in a match like this,” said Alcaraz, who skipped this year’s Australian Open because of a hamstring injury.
“The first set and the second set were really, really intense and I started to cramp in my arm. At the beginning of the third set I started to cramp every part of my body, not only the legs. The arms, as well, every part of the legs.”
‘He’s a fighter’
Djokovic will play his seventh at Roland Garros, where he lifted the Musketeers’ Cup twice, in 2016 and 2021.
The 36-year-old was facing the ultimate test against Alcaraz, who had bulldozed through the draw, only for the machine to break down in abrupt fashion.
“Tough luck for Carlos. Obviously at this level, the last thing you want is cramps and physical problems in the last stages of a Grand Slam,” said Djokovic.
“It was probably difficult for him to decide whether he should retire or continue until the last point but he’s a fighter, so respect to him for that.”
The much-awaited clash had started with Djokovic going for the throat and breaking for 3-1 before saving four break points and taking the opening set after almost an hour.
With Mike Tyson watching from the stands, both players traded punches and Djokovic was on the ropes in the second set, with Alcaraz playing several spectacular shots.
After an exchange of breaks, the 20-year-old Spaniard leveled as Djokovic overcooked a forehand and it appeared that the momentum had shifted.
“It is not easy to maintain that intensity,” said Djokovic, who has now won his last 100 Grand Slam matches in which he bagged the opening set.
“Towards the end of the second set he was the better player. I had to be aggressive, to take the ball early otherwise he would be the aggressive one. He is very fast, very dynamic so I had to match that and do even better, which was very exhausting.”
It was, however, the youngest player’s body that capitulated first in a contest that could have been a classic. – Rappler.com