Novak Djokovic’s era of dominance is not at an end yet after he beat Carlos Alcaraz in the French Open semi-finals, with tennis great Mats Wilander suggesting his big weakness was exposed in a compelling contest in Paris.
Alcaraz’s French Open hopes were hobbled by cramp as Novak Djokovic moved through to a 34th grand slam final in anti-climactic fashion.
Alcaraz had just won an electrifying second set to level the hugely anticipated match and looked like he might be grabbing the ascendancy when, after hitting a forehand, his right leg seized up.
The 20-year-old initially appeared unable to move but eventually limped back to his seat and was forced to forfeit a service game in order to have treatment.
The crowd loudly jeered when they realised the game had been awarded to Djokovic but that was the least of Alcaraz’s troubles, with the Spaniard, who had been wowing Philippe Chatrier with his incredible movement and dynamism, reduced to little more than walking.
He opted not to retire but could offer little challenge to Djokovic thereafter and won only one more game, with the Serbian completing a 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory to move through to his seventh final on the Parisian clay.
Alcaraz’s fitness concerns left seven-time Grand Slam singles champions Mats Wilander stunned, as he suggested the Spaniard had been exposed by his 36-year-old rival.
“The cramping caused by Novak, only by Novak,” declared Wilander on Eurosport.
“The difference between how Novak moves around, even when he’s exhausted and compared to Carlitos is a huge difference. I’ve never seen this from Carlos and Novak exposed a weakness in him.
“I think there was tension and stress for sure. I haven’t heard him cramping before, I can’t imagine he’s not had a great preparation so I think there was stress for sure.
“Carlos Alcaraz ran an average of 20 metres up to his cramping part. They played 155 points, that’s 3000 metres, that’s 30 x 100m sprints in two hours.
“He’s not walking, he’s sprinting for everything. Novak is smoother and Carlos might not read the game as well and has taken way more steps.”
Former British No 1 also gave his verdict on the most talked about tennis match of 2023 today, as he suggested this win cemented Djokovic’s legacy as he targets a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title.
“You go Djokovic’s through his list of achievements and it’s seven times in the final here,” he told Eurosport. “This is what defines his career and what motivates him.
“When you analyse the match, it was so intense. From the mental side, I just didn’t think he was ever going to give in. As we are aware, it was the physical side of Alcaraz that gave in.
“It was very surprising as I thought Alcaraz looked very relaxed at the end of the second set, he raised his level and got the crowd behind him and you felt the momentum was with him.
“I think in hindsight it had taken a lot out of him. He started with cramp in his hand, he was almost trying to hide that from Djokovic. Suddenly he had the cramp in his leg and as an expert player, once you get cramp at that stage, you know you’re in big trouble.
“This will be a tough loss in the semis of a Slam but to lose in these circumstances, I think his whole team will go back to the drawing board and reassess.”
Djokovic will now get his chance to claim a place in tennis history by winning his 23rd major on Sunday, with a calendar Grand Slam also back on his agenda after he fell one game short of that achievement in 2021.