Novak Djokovic on 34th career Grand Slam final as cramps plague Carlos Alcaraz

Novak Djokovic is in the final of Roland-Garros 2023. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic is in the final of Roland-Garros 2023. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The youth movement will have to wait.

Despite incredible first two sets between Novak Djokovic, 36, and Carlos Alcaraz, 20, the most experienced tennis player finally won. Djokovic qualified for his seventh French Open final and second Grand Slam final in 2023 after knocking out ATP world number one Alcaraz in four sets: 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1. Alcaraz have lost 10 consecutive games in the last two frames after suffering cramp in the third set. It was Djokovic’s first victory against Alcaraz after losing his last and only match against the Spaniard in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open in 2022.

This will be Djokovic’s 34th Grand Slam final, which ties him with Chris Evert for most of men’s or women’s tennis in the Open Era. He is also the oldest man or woman to have participated in the Roland-Garros final.

After the dominance that Alcaraz showed throughout Roland-Garros, it was surprising to see him so quickly and so deeply blocked. Djokovic opened up fast and furious as he stamped his authority on the game in just Game 3 with those bonkers exchanges.

While Djokovic fired shots with ease, Alcaraz was a little slow. The first set started to slip away from him, with Djokovic leading 4-1 before he could get the upper hand. Alcaraz looked to be getting more comfortable, but found himself on the losing side of a 12-minute marathon match that saw him blow three different break point chances. He managed to win a third game before Djokovic won the set.

Alcaraz was sharper and more efficient in the second set. He took his first lead of the game just after pulling off that absolutely heartbreaking and jaw-dropping comeback.

When Djokovic stops to applaud you right after beating him in a rally, you’re doing something right.

Just after Alcaraz took a 4-3 lead, Djokovic needed a medical time-out to get a massage on his (dominant) right forearm, which he was shaking periodically. But even that didn’t stop him. Djokovic continued to come to Alcaraz strong and tied it at 5-5. But now both players were showing their best tennis and Alcaraz won the second set after winning the last seven points.

Alcaraz cramp in the third set

The 77-minute marathon second set may have taken its toll on young Alcaraz.

After just two games in the third set, Alcaraz began to limp. With the incredibly hot weather (Friday was the hottest day at Roland Garros so far), one of his legs started cramping from exertion and probably dehydration. But the cramps are considered a loss of condition and not an injury, so he couldn’t take a medical time-out. Instead, when Alcaraz couldn’t resolve the cramp on his own, he opted to forfeit the third game of the set so he could have time to rehydrate, get a massage and relax.

It was an important decision for Alcaraz to make, and not one he took lightly. He gave up a service game and a break point, but he desperately needed that time to help him find his body. Alcaraz actually needed more time, but the only way to get it was to spend as little energy as possible in the next matches. And that’s exactly what he did as a 1-1 draw became a 4-1 lead for Djokovic, and soon after Djokovic won the set.

The break between sets allowed Alcaraz five minutes to return to the locker room, drink some improved water and get back on track. But when a player encounters this kind of physical breakdown, it’s hard to bounce back.

Djokovic nearly brawled Alcaraz in fourth

It didn’t take long for Djokovic to come out on top after the third set. Although Alcaraz battled through the fourth and avoided a bagel with a victory in game six of the set, Djokovic picked his places well enough to snatch all the required points and claim his place in the Roland- Garros.

Djokovic will face Casper Ruud or Alexander Zverev for his 23rd Grand Slam title.

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