Djokovic defeats cramping Alcaraz to reach French Open final; Ruud routs Zverev

Paris, Jun 9 (EFE).- The most-anticipated match of the 2023 tennis season lived up to all of the hype for two sets.

But Spanish world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz’s body seized up with cramps at the start of the third set, allowing Serbian great Novak Djokovic to roll to an anticlimactic 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory in Friday afternoon’s first French Open men’s semifinal.

The win gives the 36-year-old, third-seeded Djokovic a chance to play for what could be a record 23rd Grand Slam men’s singles title on Sunday against Norwegian No. 4 seed Casper Ruud, who cruised past Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 in the second semifinal of tennis’ biggest clay-court event.

Djokovic had told reporters after his quarterfinal victory against Russia’s Karen Khachanov on Tuesday, a match in which he failed to earn a single break point in the first two sets, that he would need to get off to a better start in his next match.

He did just that on Friday, jumping out to an early service-break lead by winning one of the points of the contest.

With Alcaraz serving down 1-2, 30-40, Djokovic drew him to the net with a drop shot and chased down his re-drop by pushing the ball toward his opponent’s backhand corner.

The lightning-quick 20-year-old retrieved that too, but he was unable to get enough angle on his passing shot and Djokovic was there at the net to block a backhand volley into the open court.

Djokovic’s first serve was the big key in the first set.

Although he won only 25 percent of his second-serve points, his 79 percent success rate when getting his first serve in allowed him to stave off several break points and clinch the first set in just under an hour.

The level of play then soared to dizzying heights in the second set, including a phenomenal squash-shot winner in the third game by Alcaraz as he was running toward the back wall with his back to the net.

The Spaniard had started making more of an impression on his opponent’s serve late in the first set and finally broke through to score his first service break of the match in the eighth game of the second set to grab a 5-3 lead.

Djokovic managed to break back in the following game with a blistering backhand down-the-line winner and then save three set points by rallying from 0-40 down to hold serve and knot the set at 5-5.

But Alcaraz’s jaw-dropping athleticism and retrieving skills started to wear on the Serbian, who dropped his serve once again to lose the set when he lost patience and fired a forehand well over the baseline.

Momentum was clearly on the Spaniard’s side after two sets and two hours and 16 minutes of play, with Djokovic struggling to find an answer to his opponent’s exquisite shot-making and awe-inspiring defense.

But everything changed suddenly.

After Alcaraz committed a wild unforced error on a return of serve early in the third set, it became apparent that he was suffering from a severe physical problem.

The world No. 1 opted to receive medical attention immediately with the score 1-1; since it was not yet time for a change-over, that meant he needed to forfeit a service game and fall behind 2-1.

That ended up being immaterial, though, as the cramping Spaniard struggled to move for the remaining hour of the contest and Djokovic proceeded to reel off 10 games in a row to grab a two-set-to-one lead and a 5-0 advantage in the fourth set.

Although Alcaraz managed to win one last game, the match ended in three hours and 23 minutes when the Spaniard hit a forehand into the net.

“First and foremost, I have to say tough luck for Carlos,” Djokovic said afterward. “Obviously, at this level, the last thing you want is cramps and physical problems during the late stages of the Grand Slam.”

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