After defeating Carlos Alcaraz in the French Open final in a match that was marred by cramps for the Spaniard, Novak Djokovic is one victory away from a record 23rd men’s major championship.
Alcaraz withdrew early in the third set with the problem while an exciting match was precariously poised at one set apiece.
He did so twice after receiving treatment, but Serbia’s Djokovic capitalized on the situation to easily win 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1.
In the final on Sunday, Djokovic, 36, will face either Casper Ruud or Alexander Zverev.
Ruud, the fourth seed from Norway, lost in the final the year before. Zverev, the 22nd seed from Germany, is back in the semi-finals after suffering a major ankle injury on the court at the same stage the year before.
Coincidentally, this year’s first semi-final was also ended early by a physical ailment before Zverev’s return to the final four; however, top seed Alcaraz’s issue was not as serious as the German’s injury, which prevented him from competing for several months.
However, it was sufficient to ruin a meeting that was developing into a classic.
In his on-court interview, Djokovic remarked, “First and foremost, I have to say good luck to Carlos.
“Cramping and bodily issues are the last things you want at this level. I feel for him, I’m sorry for him, and I hope he gets better quickly so he can return.
“He knows how young he is, he’s got plenty of time ahead of him, and he will win this tournament many times.”
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On Djokovic’s second match point, Alcaraz, 20, bowed his head as he limped to the net, where the third seed was waiting to console his younger opponent.
Alcaraz received some jeers as he pointed to the sky in celebration of reaching a record-extending 34th Grand Slam men’s final, and Djokovic joined the fans in cheering him off the court.
As Djokovic took the post-match microphone, the atmosphere became more joyous as supporters chanted the former world number one’s name.
Congratulations to him for displaying grit and perseverance, said Djokovic. “It is difficult for him to decide whether to retire or finish the match.”
I simply tried to maintain concentration, be in the moment, and avoid thinking too much about what was occurring on the other side of the net.
How an exciting semifinal game was sadly cut short
As a result of the duo’s calm journey through the draw, the anticipated meeting between Djokovic and Alcaraz has become the topic of conversation in Paris for the past two weeks.
Even before 14-time winner Rafael Nadal withdrew due to a hip injury, the two men were widely regarded as the front-runners to win the Coupe des Mousquetaires.
While Alcaraz had won four of his eight tournaments this season and replaced the Serb at the top of the world rankings, Djokovic had won five of the previous seven majors he had competed in.
The rarity of their clashes, though, has added to the excitement surrounding the highly anticipated semifinal.
It did not let down thanks to a top-notch, high-octane start.
Both players displayed their explosive power from the baseline, along with exquisite touches around the net, stretchy athleticism, and long opening sets that showed why there had been so much anticipation.
Djokovic dominated the first set thanks to his great experience in his 45th major semifinal before Alcaraz raised his game in the second set, showing signs of tension through a high amount of unforced errors.
The game’s turning point then arrived, leaving Chatrier muttering and afraid the match would end too soon.
In the second game, as Djokovic served, Alcaraz smacked a forehand into the net at 40-30 and instantly hauled himself up and hopped onto his left leg.
The US Open winner indicated that he required assistance, and when umpire Aurelie Tourte and Djokovic both went down to help, Alcaraz stumbled back to his chair.
He sought treatment from the physiotherapist for a right calf cramp, but Grand Slam regulations prohibited him from taking a medical break outside of a changeover. As a result, the game was docked, giving Djokovic a 2-1 advantage.
The crowd, which has gained notoriety for its unfavorable reactions this week, booed loudly in response to the verdict.
Alcaraz fought valiantly to continue, receiving additional care after the fifth game, but Djokovic saw his chance and brutally took advantage of his opponent’s immobility.
Alcaraz soon dropped the third set and appeared to be going for a bagel in the fourth, but he recovered late and managed to score again, earning a rousing response from the supportive audience.
But because it was obvious that there was no longer a battle, Djokovic promptly served out to advance to his sixth Roland Garros final.