Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros
Wow, that Djokovic service game at 4-2 was one of the most tense games I have ever watched. The stakes were officially ma-hoosive. Alcaraz had a huge rant in their box after missing a regulation backhand at 15-30. Djokovic sent a 76mph second serve that barely cleared the net at the breaking point. He was lucky with a forehand on target on the same spot that landed deep and straight. But he sees three break points and is now in the box seat.
Djokovic 5-2 Alcaraz* (*indicates next server)
Djokovic slows the pace and brings out the serve and volley tactic to surprise Alcaraz. If he goes the distance in this round, Djokovic does well to slow him down. A few mistakes from the two-time champion give Alcaraz a sniffle at 15-30. But Djokovic, as always in the clutch, puts so much stress on his opponent that he crumbles, mistaking his forehand range. A low rebound and the wind gull prompt Djokovic to fire a forehand into the net. Devil for the first time.
What a moment of double faulting for the second time. Djokovic again points out that it is the fault of the wind. Breaking point. And he’ll have to defend it on his second serve…and defend it he does by staying in the rally long enough, that focus and a stiff rebound drawing the error, even after he’s framed his first groundstroke.
A nice forehand winner on the Alcaraz line gives him another break point. His speed on the pitch is fascinating. The very next point, however, is Alacarz’s journey from hero o zero when he marks his return. It was wide on his backhand but not so high that he couldn’t control it.
When Djokovic follows that up by winning the next point after Alacarz fires a long forehand, Djokovic celebrates like he’s won a tournament. That’s all it means. Alcaraz didn’t finish, however, went to the net and Djokovic pumped his pass attempt too long.
The match enters its 13th minute with Alcaraz having a third break point. Djokovic defends that one with three cannonball forehands followed by a game-winning backhand volley at the net. A two, the error of Alcaraz, scooping his forehand too long, allows Djokovic to have a ball of play.
Now the wind is really starting to blow and the cloud of clay envelops Djokovic. He doesn’t care, however, and fires a ball serve to win the match.
Djokovic* 4-2 Alcaraz (* indicates next server)
Alcaraz lands his first ace. try to fight fire with fire. Djokovic came out swinging, landing blow after blow but the wonderkid counter-attacked…but not for long as Djokovic nailed a winning return.
The slippery surface costs Djokovic the chance for a point at 15-30, then Alacraz whips a forehand winner. 40-30.
Neither player finds it easy to stay on their feet. “I’ve never seen it so dry,” says John McEnroe. Djokovic continues his comeback with a short volley that Alcaraz hammers down the line to win the match at 30.
Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros
Huge tension around for the opening matches. It’s the kind of dynamic we’ve been waiting for, with Alcaraz the aggressor and Djokovic looking to hang on to the points until the error occurs. The steep bounce generated by Alcaraz’s heavily topspun forehand already seems to be a factor.
Djokovic 4-1 Alcaraz* (*indicates next server)
Djokovic looks unstoppable, using his serve hammer followed by an ability to anticipate exactly where the return is coming, if Alcaraz can overcome it, sliding and stretching like Mr. Boombastic. At 40-15 there is a slight delay when the spotlights turn on. And that produces a first double fault. 40-30.
Djokovic closes the hold when Alcaraz scores a backhand he was trying to get past on the pitch.
Djokovic* 3-1 Alcaraz (* indicates next server)
An excellent backhand followed by a nice volley gave Alacarz a 30-15 lead. The next point is magnificent, Djokovic’s calm defense, the cushioning swap with the cushioning helps him tie it up, his athleticism and gliding ability take him to places very few can reach. This is the perfect time to release the return of the monster. Break point and he seals it after another superb rally containing three drop shots and the softest of volleys.
First service break.
Djokovic 2-1 Alcaraz* (*indicates next server)
Djokovic lands one of those full-extension forehands from Inspector Gadget and finds such devastating power that Alcaraz can’t get it back deep in their deuce and the Spaniard also loses the next point, snagging a surprisingly long forehand when it seemed to be happening to him. .
A brilliant return followed by a forehand error from Djokovic, driving him long takes the score to 30, which is when Djokovic tries a volley of serve for the first time and he succeeds skillfully. Djokovic’s forehand kicks Alcaraz wide open in his deuce range, setting him up for a whipped forehand winner at 40-30. Alcaraz defended well but got their foot twisted when the winner came right back to where they came from.
Djokovic* 1-1 Alcaraz (* indicates next server)
Alacarz betrays his nerves at 15 when he leaves ahead and picks himself up invitingly. When he shoots close to Alcaraz’s body and the ball bounces high, Alcaraz slices wildly. But he recovers to win two close rallies to take the lead at 40-15, then holds his serve with some powerful forehands, absolutely pinning Djokovic behind the baseline.
Djokovic 1-0 Alcaraz* (* indicates next server)
An almost perfect start for Djokovic, nailing booming serves and forcing Alcaraz to return a long and another into the net, the first on the backhand, the second on the forehand. But when Alcaraz gets a comeback in his third shot of the rally, it’s a wonderful backhand winner down the line to make it 40-15. Djokovic’s kick, central serve closes the hold at 15. Five very good first serves from Djokovic.
Sound the trumpets
Djokovic will serve first. It’s a full house, for once, at the start of the match.
Take out the players
Djokovic first in his orange duds, Alcaraz in the white and green number, above, which he’s worn all week. Alcaraz got the biggest roar, maybe but both were pretty loud.
Here is this treadmill jig:
Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros
Weather update: it’s hot (maybe 30 degrees) and windy on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Someone’s hat just blew on the field and was returned to him by security.
On paper, the breeze should suit Alcaraz (who once said “I like the wind”) more than Djokovic (the ultimate control freak).
Again, on paper, the heat should suit Alcaraz, as it will make his forehand look majestic (which Eurosport pundit Mats Wilander says “hits so hard it’s almost a disrespect for the game itself”) even bigger and bouncy.
But this match is about to be played on the most fanciful of surfaces: red clay. So who really knows how conditions will evolve?
We are about 10 minutes from departure
Europsort shows Novak Djokovic pacing on a treadmill as he prepares to enter the pitch.
Brain, heart and, uh, stones
John McEnroe is asked to interpret it and, wearing a splendid Strokes T-shirt, he says beautifully “I’m not on Twitter so how do I know?”
Excerpt: The Boy Who Would Be King (of France)
Hello and welcome to live coverage of the first French Open men’s semi-final between Novak Djokovic, who started the year by winning the Australian Open, his 22nd Grand Slam title, and Carlos Alcaraz , who ended last year by winning her first at the US Open.
Alcaraz, “the most complete 20-year-old player I have ever seen” according to John McEnroe, made short work of Stefanos Tsitsipas in a 6-2, 6-1. Won 7-6, using that amazing array of shots to distract his opponent, mostly with that terrific forehand drop shot. He is the No. 1 seed and the favorite, despite Djokovic’s record, his taste for fighting and his undiminished ability to look like a giant octopus battling possible suffocation.
“He deserves his success, no doubt,” said Djokovic of Alcaraz. “He works hard and he’s already a very complete player and he’s only 20. So we only played Madrid once last year, 7-6 in third for him. Most tournaments this year, we were not in the same table, but we are there.
“It’s the game a lot of people want to see. This is definitely the biggest challenge for me so far in the tournament. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. He’s definitely a guy to beat here. I’m looking forward to it.”
They both reached the semi-finals dropping just one set, but Alcaraz has been the most impressive, spending three and a half hours less on the court than Djokovic in his five matches so far.
The Murcian chic has spoken of his excitement at finally being able to play Djokovic again after their lonely encounter last year, which he won by the narrowest of margins at the Madrid Open, 67, 7-5, 7-6. “Since the draw,” he said, “everyone was expecting this game, the semi-final against Novak. Me too. I really want to play this game. Since last year, I really wanted to play against Novak again. We are both playing at a very good level. I will enjoy it.
“Of course for me it’s amazing to make history, to play a semi-final with a legend like Novak. So it’s going to be a great game for me. I would say the game we played “Last year doesn’t affect this one too much. We both learned a lot from that game, so it’s going to be totally different, and let’s see what happens on Friday.”
We are about to find out.
Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then get a year for just $9 with our exclusive US offer.