Novak Djokovic is headed to a French Open final with all sorts of history at stake after eliminating a cramping Carlos Alcaraz in a showdown semifinal.
Djokovic, a 22-time major champion, took out the top seed Alcaraz 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, but the match was even when Alcaraz began showing signs of right leg cramping. The 20-year-old Spaniard attributed it to the “tension” of the match, saying he was nervous for his first time facing Djokovic at a major.
“I have never felt something like I did today,” he said, adding that it was full-body cramps. “If someone says that he get into the court with no nerves playing against Novak, he lies.”
Alcaraz stopped play at 1-all in the third set and had trouble walking. He forfeited the next game, stipulated by the rules for receiving medical treatment for severe muscle cramping when not at a change of ends or end of a set.
Djokovic then won the next nine games. Alcaraz played with limited mobility and without the charismatic magic that’s charmed the tennis world.
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“First and foremost, I have to say tough luck for Carlos. I feel for him. I feel sorry,” Djokovic said to begin an on-court interview. “I told him at the net he knows how young he is. He’s got plenty of time ahead of him, so he’s going to win this tournament, I’m sure, many, many times.”
Djokovic was told of Alcaraz’s reasoning for the cramps.
“I have experienced that several times,” he said. “Early in my career I was struggling quite a bit physically. I can understand the emotions and circumstances that affect you mentally and emotionally.”
The semi was billed as perhaps the greatest inter-generational match in men’s tennis history, the first time that Alcaraz played a member of the Big Three at a major.
Their 16-year age gap was the largest to take place for men this deep in a major since the 1991 U.S. Open (Jim Courier d. Jimmy Connors) and the largest age gap for any major match between Slam champs since 2006 Wimbledon (Rafael Nadal d. Andre Agassi).
Unlike Friday, most of the previous torch-passing meetings took place when one man was not yet at his peak or the other was past his prime.
Typically, the younger player wins these types of duels. Djokovic, by prevailing over a foe 16 years younger this late in a major, broke the Open Era men’s age gap record of 14-plus years set by Roger Federer, who beat Hyeon Chung at the 2018 Australian Open.
Now, Djokovic heads to Sunday’s final as an overwhelming favorite against Norwegian Casper Ruud, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 winner over German Alexander Zverev in the later semifinal. Ruud was runner-up to Nadal at last year’s French Open and runner-up to Alcaraz at last year’s U.S. Open.
Djokovic can break his tie with Nadal for the most men’s major titles. He can become the first man to win all four majors at least three times. He can break Nadal’s record as the oldest French Open singles champion.
“I’ve been very fortunate that most of the matches in tournaments I’ve played in the last few years, there is history on the line,” he said. “The motivation is very high, as you can imagine.”
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