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Djokovic into seventh French Open final as Alcaraz breaks down

Djokovic into seventh French Open final as Alcaraz breaks down

PARIS: Novak Djokovic made a huge leap towards a record 23rd men’s Grand Slam title with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 French Open semi-final victory against an ailing Carlos Alcaraz in a clash of titans that ended in anticlimactic fashion on Friday.

The drama unfolded just as Djokovic had levelled the third set at 1-1 with the first two sets split but with world number one Alcaraz seemingly in the ascendancy in the sweltering 33-degree Paris heat.

Alcaraz pulled up clutching his right calf and while he continued playing, the US Open champion was clearly hampered.

He conceded his next service game because he sought treatment courtside before a scheduled change of ends and could not receive a medical timeout for cramping.

As boos and jeers rained down, Djokovic, playing in his 45th Grand Slam semi-final, swept the next five games to open a two sets to one lead.

Alcaraz left the court for a five-minute bathroom break but his physical limitations easily opened the door for Djokovic to wrap up 10 of the last 11 games and book a spot for Sunday’s showdown against either last year’s runner-up Cas­per Ruud or German Alexander Zverev.

Djokovic will play his 34th Grand Slam final, 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, who was in his 46th semi-final at a major.

“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 levelled as Djokovic overcooked a forehand and it appeared that the momentum had shifted.

From that point, Alcaraz’s afternoon unraveled in a contest that could have been a classic.

“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.”


On Thursday, women’s defending champion Iga Swiatek was pushed hard by Beatriz Haddad Maia but the top seed soaked up the pressure to overcome the Brazilian 6-2, 7-6 (9/7) and reach a third final in four years at Roland Garros.

The 22-year-old Pole, who improved her record in Paris to 27-2, is bidding to become the first woman to successfully defend the title since Justine Henin in 2007 in the final against 43rd-ranked Karolina Muchova from the Czech Republic on Saturday.

She is also the youngest woman to reach three French Open finals since Monica Seles at the start of the 1990s.

“It’s really amazing. Honestly It’s tough to play such a long tournament and I’m pretty happy I am able to play consistently and every year have a good result here, and I am pretty excited for Saturday,” said Swiatek.

Swiatek, who lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup last year and in 2020, was put through the wringer by Haddad Maia but held her nerve in a tense tiebreak to see off the 14th seed’s challenge.

Haddad Maia, the first Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since seven-time major winner Maria Bueno in 1968, broke Swiatek to love in the opening game but the top seed soon took charge.

Swiatek won five of the next six games before breaking Haddad Maia for a third time to close out the set.

Haddad Maia clawed out a 3-1 lead in the second set but Swiatek pocketed the next three games.

She fended off three break points at 4-all and saved a set point in the tie-break before halting the run of the 27-year-old left-hander who had never got past the second round of a Grand Slam before this French Open.

“She has a really nice game for clay courts with a lot of top spin,” Swiatek said of Haddad Maia, who beat the Pole in their only other meeting in Toronto last year. “She can also play flat and aggressive. She’s a fighter. For every match, she played fierce.”

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2023

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