Novak Djokovic To Play For Record 23rd Major After Alcaraz Cramps Out
For two sets, Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz played some of the most incredible tennis fans have witnessed in recent history.
And then the 20-year-old world No. 1 was beset by cramps early in the third set of their highly anticipated French Open semifinal — and suddenly the match took a dramatic turn.
No. 1 Alcaraz could barely move, began swinging for the fences and the match soon ended with No. 3 Djokovic winning, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1. The 36-year-old Serb improved to 27-0 in major semifinals after winning the first set.
Djokovic can replace Alcaraz as No. 1 in the ATP Rankings by lifting a record 23rd major title in Paris.
“First and foremost, I have to say tough luck for Carlos,” Djokovic said on court. “Obviously, at this level the last thing you want is cramps and physical problems in the late stages of a Grand Slam. So I feel for him, I feel sorry, I hope he can recover and he can come back very soon.
“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. He’s an unbelievable player, incredible competitor, very nice guy so he deserves all the applause and all the support.”
Djokovic won his 20th straight Grand Slam match and will play for a men’s record 23rd major title — and a third Roland Garros trophy — on Sunday against either No. 4 Casper Ruud or No. 22 Alexander Zverev. He would tie Serena Williams at 23 majors, with only Margaret Court’s 24 ahead of them. His 34th major final — in 70 Grand Slams — ties Chrissie Evert for the most ever. The last time a French Open final was played without Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer was 2004.
The champion will take home about $2.5 million, while the runner-up earns $1,248,019.
Having already won the Australian Open in January — with a torn hamstring — Djokovic would be half way to the calendar Slam if he wins on Sunday. He came within one match of doing so in 2021 but lost in the U.S. Open final to Daniil Medvedev in straight sets.
Djokovic is currently tied with his longtime rival Nadal at 22 majors. Nadal withdrew ahead of the tournament with a hip injury and said 2024 would be his final season.
“The more you see him, the more it's hard to say that he isn't the best,” John McEnroe said of Djokovic on NBC. “And I watched Roger Federer for 15 years.
“I saw Nadal win this 14 times. And [Djokovic] has got records all over the place. It's insane, and he's 36.”
Djokovic himself battled a right arm injury in the semifinal, calling for an injury timeout during the second set, but prevailed against a man 16 years his junior. This match featured the biggest age gap in a major semifinal since Jim Courier beat Jimmy Connors in the 1991 U.S. Open semifinals.
“I don’t think Djokovic is going anywhere,” Courier said during the Tennis Channel broadcast of Alcaraz-Djokovic. “He’s got Tom Brady mentality. He still wants to be winning these things when he’s 40.”
The early stages of the match featured some breathtaking shot-making, including a jaw-dropping winner by Alcaraz early in the second set in which he raced toward the net to retrieve a Djokovic drop shot and then darted toward the back of the court to somehow turn his body and a hit a forehand passing shot for a winner. As Alcaraz held up his left index finger in celebration, Djokovic could only smile and clap his hand against his racquet.
Alcaraz appeared set to take the second set after he broke for a 5-3 lead. But Djokovic broke back to make it 4-5 and then saved a 0-40 deficit to tie the match at 5-all. Alcaraz went on to break again to take the second set at 7-5 and tie the match.
It appeared the match was headed toward a dramatic conclusion, but Alcaraz began to have problems with his right hand — and left leg — early in the third. As Alcaraz cramped up, Djokovic crossed over to his side of the net to show concern, a rare thing for an opponent to do. Soon a trainer was massaging Alcaraz’s left leg as he sat in the chair. Djokovic was awarded the third game for a 2-1 lead because Alcaraz couldn’t finish the game.
Alcaraz had won 12 straight major matches but did not play at the Australian Open due to a right leg injury. He won his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open last September.
“Towards the end of the second set, I wasn’t feeling fresh at all,” Djokovic said of his own health issues. “And we went toe-to-toe, I think it was quite an even match, one set all, and then this thing happened with his cramps...and from that moment onwards it was a different match.
“I just tried to stay focused, to stay present. I saw that he’s struggling but I didn’t obviously want to think too much what’s going on on the opposite side of the net but again, respect for him and I hope he comes back very quickly.”
Alcaraz left the court after the third set and then returned as the crowd applauded. But Djokovic broke Alcaraz for a quick 2-0 lead in the fourth. He broke a hobbled Alcaraz again for a 4-0 lead and it was all but over.
Djokovic and Alcaraz had met just once before, with the Spaniard taking out the Serb in the Madrid semifinals in 2022 en route to the title. He beat Nadal in the quarterfinals, becoming the first man to slay the two giants in the same clay court event.
This was the third year in a row that the signature match did not occur in the finals. In 2021, Nadal and Djokovic met in the semis, with Djokovic prevailing to end Nadal’s 35-match win streak. In 2022, Nadal and Djokovic faced off in the quarters, with Nadal advancing en route to his 14th French Open title.
Without Nadal not playing this year, Djokovic is capitalizing and stands on the brink of history.