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What happened to Carlos Alcaraz at the French Open? It was all down to Novak Djokovic

In the finish, Novak Djokovic was proper: Carlos Alcaraz could have gained their solely earlier assembly, however best-of-five at a grand slam was at all times going to be completely different.

So it proved. For nicely over two hours, the most-anticipated match of the 12 months lived up to the hype. Djokovic and Alcaraz traded blows and held the French Open crowd of their spell. Djokovic wanted to be at his highest degree to take the first set 6-3, then Alcaraz discovered his spark and raised his personal sport to win the second 7-5. A 3rd set of equal brilliance beckoned, as did a fourth and even a fifth. Djokovic, 36, gained 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1.

But then Alcaraz stopped. After leaping on a Djokovic serve, he pulled up and felt his decrease proper leg. His calf had seized painfully, and the cramps started to unfold round his physique. “Not only the legs,” Alcaraz stated. “The arms, as well.” It was a special match from then. Alcaraz refused to give up however it was a non-contest. The Spaniard, so thrilling when in full flight, moved like a hen whose wings had been clipped.

Such bodily difficulties are usually not unusual for gamers at this stage of their profession. Despite already rising to world No 1, Alcaraz’s improvement remains to be in its adolescence. The Spaniard has solely just lately turned 20 and was enjoying in his second grand slam semi-final, in what was the hottest day of the match to date in Paris.

It was jarring, nonetheless, to see Alcaraz struggling. His fast ascent to the prime of the sport had come with out displaying any severe weaknesses. He is already a grand slam champion and had already triumphed in marathon matches. His US Open victory final September got here after defeating Jannik Sinner in 5 hours and 15 minutes in the quarter-finals, in a match that additionally featured lengthy rallies and infrequently dipped in its depth.

Alcaraz at all times performs at full tempo and that was the sport plan in opposition to Djokovic as nicely. But dealing with the 22-time grand slam champion requires perfection, particularly in the huge factors. In the early exchanges, Alcaraz seemed irritated, frayed and underneath strain as he dedicated errors from the baseline. It was uncharacteristic from a participant who normally performs with such a constructive perspective. He was underneath vital stress, and it was notable that Alcaraz repeatedly turned and gestured to his field all through the opening set.

Djokovic performed Alcaraz at his personal sport, taking the ball early in an aggressive strategy that disrupted the Spaniard’s rhythm. Djokovic’s management and precision on his service video games pushed Alcaraz’s defensive capabilities to their limits. For Alcaraz, there was by no means a misplaced trigger, by no means a Djokovic drop shot or lob that he couldn’t attain, however all these sprints and laborious efforts ultimately added up.

Alcaraz forfeited a sport so as to obtain a medical timeout

(Getty Images)

It is maybe solely now that Alcaraz and everybody else realises how completely different a proposition dealing with Djokovic at a grand slam actually is. “It’s not easy to play against Novak,” he defined. “If someone says that he gets into the court with no nerves playing against Novak, he lies. Of course, playing a semi-final of a grand slam, you have a lot of nerves, but even more with facing Novak. Next time that I’m going to face Novak, I hope to be different, but the nerves will be there.”

“The tension. The tension of the match,” he continued. “The tension of the first set, the second set, it was really intense two sets. Really good rallies, tough rallies, drop shots, sprints. It’s a combination of a lot of things. But the main thing, it was the tension that I had all the two first sets.”

Djokovic was pushed to his most degree as nicely, however the Serbian was enjoying his 45th grand slam semi-final, in his 17th 12 months at the French Open. Djokovic has been joined by Alcaraz at the prime of the sport however this was an event wherein expertise proved invaluable. Djokovic was sympathetic, and realised what had happened.

“I can understand the emotions and circumstances that affect you mentally and emotionally,” he stated. “Being in one of the greatest tournaments of the world, maybe for the first time in his career he was expected to win. He was maybe not an underdog, chasing the title and trying to win against a favourite. But it was probably the other way around. So maybe that affected him.”

“You have to learn from these kind of matches,” Alcaraz instructed. He has time on his aspect, Djokovic stated as a lot at the web after wrapping up the victory.

Djokovic now has the probability to transfer forward of Rafael Nadal with a males’s report 23rd grand slam victory. He will face final 12 months’s runner-up Casper Ruud, who made it back-to-back French Open finals after swatting apart Alexander Zverev. Ruud got here into Roland Garros low on confidence however has discovered his groove round-by-round and confirmed ruthlessness to defeat Zverev in straight units.

But the aura of Djokovic looms and, for this 12 months at least, it was a problem that proved a step too far even for the world primary.

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