Alcaraz’s take-no-prisoner approach faces stern Djokovic test at French Open

Alcaraz’s take-no-prisoner approach faces stern Djokovic test at French Open
Carlos Alcaraz of Spain plays Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in their men's quarterfinal match at the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France n 6 June, 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Caroline Blumberg)

World No 1 Carlos Alcaraz has a chance to fully break the hold of tennis’ diminishing ‘Big Three’ at Roland Garros.

No player has come close to establishing domination in men’s tennis since the Big Three started their reign in the mid-2000s, but Carlos Alcaraz has all it takes to grab the crown for himself at the French Open.

The Spaniard has been inspiring fear and dropping jaws at Roland Garros, and his take-no-prisoner approach faces the ultimate test on Friday in his semi-final clash against Novak Djokovic, who at 36 is hanging on to his dream of claiming a record-breaking 23rd men’s Grand Slam title.

At stake is the world No 1 spot, currently occupied by the 20-year-old Alcaraz, who needs to go past the Serbian to retain it while Djokovic must win the title to get back to the top.

With Roger Federer retired and Rafael Nadal having at best a whole season left ahead of him, Djokovic is the last man standing in the Big Three, who have won a staggering 64 of the last 78 majors.

The two-times French Open champion has been his usual metronomic self on the Parisian clay, where his defence system will come under heavy fire against Alcaraz.

The top seed has dismantled Italian talent Lorenzo Musetti and Grand Slam hopeful Stefanos Tsitsipas on his way to the last four, playing at a rarely-seen level against the Greek, although he was too casual in the last games.

Alcaraz called the masterclass ‘one of the best’ matches of his career and he will need another against Djokovic, who will not let any lapse in concentration go unpunished.

Novak Djokovic, French Open

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts after winning against Karen Khachanov of Russia in their men’s quarterfinal at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris, France on 6 June, 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Caroline Blumberg)

Winning streak

While excitement will be at its peak for Alcaraz, who won his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open last year before missing the Australian Open injured, the Spaniard is fully aware of his opponent’s resume.

“It’s going to be his 45th semi-final in a Grand Slam. This is going to be my second,” said Alcaraz, who is on a 12-match winning streak at majors.

Djokovic will need to make some adjustments to be ready for the Alcaraz storm on court Philippe Chatrier, having made a slow start against Karen Khachanov in the previous round.

“I definitely need to have a better start in the semis,” he said.

In the other semi-final, last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud, who has steadily made his way to the last four, takes on Alexander Zverev.

The 22nd-seeded German will also play his third consecutive semi-final at Roland Garros, a year after his Parisian challenge ended in dramatic fashion when he retired against Nadal screaming in agony with a freakish ankle injury.

“It was definitely a tournament that I marked on my calendar this year,” said Zverev.

“I’m happy to be playing the way I’m playing here in Paris. I’m extremely happy with how things are going, but the tournament is not over yet.”

Swiatek final favourite

Iga Swiatek goes into Saturday’s French Open final as the overwhelming favourite having won the title twice at Roland Garros and knowing she has a safety net on clay.

The world No 1 ran into trouble in her 6-2, 7-6(7) semi-final victory over Beatriz Haddad Maia on Thursday but always felt in control, denying she was frustrated when the Brazilian offered more resistance than her previous opponents.

Swiatek will face Czech Karolina Muchova in the final.

Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek of Poland after defeating Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil in their women’s semi final match at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris, France on 8 June, 2023. (EPA-EFE/Yoan Valat)

“I felt the same as usual. I actually felt kind of more focused because I know that the crowd was loud and I tried to just kind of keep my focus inside,” the Pole told a press conference.

Swiatek, however, struggled to handle the top spin of Haddad Maia’s serve and her power, facing a set point in the tiebreak.

“I just knew that I can really use my power on clay and even make it physical if I need to,” she said. “So. I had a lot of confidence in myself today.”

Playing on the red dirt only increases her self-confidence.

“Obviously, it’s still a lot of pressure and it’s not easy, but also on clay I feel like I have more weapons than on faster hard courts,” Swiatek said.

“I’m trying to use that confidence and that feeling of being comfortable on that surface to just kind of focus on that a little bit more and play better because of that.”

She has reached her third final in Paris in the last four years, having won in 2020 and 2022.

“I feel like I’m a better player. Improvement I feel like is everywhere. Like tennis-wise, mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience,” she said.

A self-declared fan of 14-times men’s champion Rafael Nadal, Swiatek, however, does not see herself reigning on the Parisian red dirt as long as the Spaniard.

“What he did and what he’s still doing, it’s pretty amazing. I never kind of knew that it’s going to be possible for me. It is totally out of my reach, if I can say that,” she said. Reuters/DM


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