Alexander Zverev is someone who likes to take a nap, he humorously explained that at this French Open. When asked why he saw himself as a lion the way he used to be elsewhere, he quipped, “Lions sleep 18 hours a day, have sex four hours a day, and eat for two? That doesn’t sound so bad to be honest.” Before his semifinals on Friday, Germany’s best tennis pro had to be prepared for a long wait, as he had done in the three previous evening matches he had played. So it was time to snooze again.
But things turned out differently. The first men’s semi-final was Carlos Alcaraz against Novak Djokovic from 3 p.m. It was initially assumed that this duel would last a long time. The Spaniard and the Serb really got caught up in each other, after 2:26 hours of play they were just at the beginning of the third set. Then something unexpected happened: Alcaraz, the 20-year-old from El Palmar, winced. An hour-long injury drama developed, from that moment on Alcaraz could no longer defend himself, even if he played to the end. Later it became clear: He had a kind of whole body cramp. Djokovic left the field just before half past six after the 6: 3, 5: 7, 6: 1, 6: 1 as the winner. For Zverev and Casper Ruud, who were allowed to determine the second finalist, it was much faster than expected to get out onto the court Philippe-Chatrier.
And it was clear from the start: This shouldn’t be Zverev’s evening, which lacked the final consistency in the game. He also made way too many mistakes. 6: 3, 6: 4, 6: 0 Ruud prevailed, who is again in the final in Paris. In 2022 he lost to Rafael Nadal there. For Zverev, this tournament was still a success, even if he should see it at first. A year after his ligament tear, which he suffered here on the Philippe Chatrier court, he reached the semi-finals again. He only has to wait for his longed-for first Grand Slam victory.
The first set was initially turbulent, Zverev lost his service game, then Ruud, then Zverev again. Then Ruud, 24, from Oslo, stoically downplayed his game. He packs a spin on his baseline shots that few on tour can match. He distributed the balls in the corners and more or less let Zverev run up. The second set was similar, with Zverev not acting so badly – only he rarely knew how to win the rallies with the right shot. His body language was extremely negative in the third sentence, the 1.98 meter tall man seemed ten centimeters shrunk. Ruud went through with his game and celebrated after 2:11 hours.
Djokovic can now win his 23rd Grand Slam title – and break away from Nadal
The first semi-final was awaited with great excitement, the French sports daily L’Equipe even announced a “generational conflict” in huge letters on the front page. And indeed, the duel between world number one Alcaraz, 20, and world number three Djokovic, 36, was balanced for two sets and often thrilling. From the Spaniard’s point of view it was 3: 6, 7: 5, 1: 0, 30:40 when he hit a return on the Serb’s serve – and flinched at his forehand error.
He grabbed his punching arm, then shook his right leg. He needed treatment and since it wasn’t during a break or end of a sentence, his opponent was awarded a game – 2-1. Alcaraz actually played the game to the end, but he could no longer move and defend normally. After 3:22 hours, Djokovic converted the first match point. He may become the oldest winner of the French Open on Sunday. After winning 6: 3, 5: 7, 6: 1, 6: 1 in his 45th Grand Slam semi-final, he reached a final in one of the four most important tennis tournaments for the seventh time in Paris and for the 34th time in total . Djokovic is aiming for his 23rd Grand Slam victory – if he were successful, he would break away from co-record holder Rafael Nadal (22) from Spain.
Alcaraz was dismissed with encouraging applause from Court Philipe-Chatrier. Djokovic, who received a few boos due to a cheering gesture that was a little too clear, said during the interview on the pitch: “First of all, I have to say that it was bad luck for Carlos.” The last thing you want is to end a game like this. “I feel for him.” It was difficult for Alcaraz to deal with the situation, “he didn’t know how to continue playing. Congratulations on his fighting spirit.” There was friendly applause. Djokovic admitted: “It was a different match” – he meant from the moment Alcaraz got injured. The mood was subdued as he left, although some called his name.
Alcaraz was still trying to recover from the physical problem. At 1: 4 in the third set he was treated during the break. A physiotherapist massaged the legs, apparently rubbing a substance into the thighs. After losing the third set, he left the field with a supervisor, this time he took a regular break for treatment, without a penalty. But the match was over.
“The second set was really intense. Then my arm started cramping,” said Alcaraz at the press conference. “By the beginning of the third set, my whole body started cramping.” He had no complaints before the match and felt good, he said. “I think it was a combination of many things, but the main reason was the excitement.” It won’t comfort Alcaraz, but at least he got the most spectacular shot of the tournament. Running backwards, he caught a ball flying backwards and hit it back with an artistic turn – the ball passed Djokovic. The spectators freaked out, not knowing how this match would turn out.