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Carlos Alcaraz V Novak Djokovic: French Open 2023 Semi-Final – Live

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Alcaraz 1-4 Djokovic* Men and boys so far, Djokovic at the top of his game – sorry, the absolute top of his game. He knows the threat Alcaraz poses, won’t have enjoyed someone other than him being the favourite – he’s tennis’s greatest nurturer of injustices since Connors and McEnroe – and consolidates to 30 despite sending down his first double.

*Alcaraz 1-3 Djokovic Lost in the supermarket, Alcaraz wasn’t born as much as he fell out, nobody seemed to notice him eventually opts for a drop … and sends it wide for 0-15. No matter, he makes 30-15 and Mac declares him the best 19-year-old he’s ever seen, though not as good as Becker at 17 and 18. Anyhow, they wind up duking it out at the net, Djokovic somehow wins an exchange he should’ve been out of, and an incredible forehand return – of a good serve – sets up our first break point. Here we go … and have an absolute look! A glooorious drop sees Alcaraz haring to the net, he does an amazing job of simply reaching it but also conjures a fine response that has Djokovic curling the ball around the net-post from by the umpire’s chair. Alcaraz manages to get the ball back, but a tapped then volley bounces into the chasmic space behind him, and that’s the breakthrough! Djokovic raises an arm to the crowd, and well he might; he is steaming hot, like a man with history in his grasp.

Alcaraz 1-2 Djokovic* A terrific forehand from Djokovic, thwacked cross-court and on the run, gets him 15-all, and he’s really hitting the shot with a lot of pop; I reckon he fancies his chances of outhitting Alcaraz, for consistency but perhaps also for power. But after a really good serve down the T, well returned by Alcaraz, he goes for too much and drops long; 30-all. So a serve out wide follows, backed up by a lovely volley into the open space, then a murderous angle, cut obliquely to break the sideline, secures the hold. I think Djokovic has made every first serve so far; he’s certainly settled the sooner.

Novak has started strongly on the Paris clay. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters*Alcaraz 1-1 Djokovic Djokovic has his head in this match, a succession of forehands making 15-all. But then he hits wide when up in the rally, Alcaraz finds a delicious angle on a whipped forehand, then unfurls a further succession to secure his hold.

Alcaraz 0-1 Djokovic* (denotes server) Djokovic begins with three first serves, Alcaraz able to return none, but just as it looks like the Serb’s forehand is closing out the game, a topspinner down the line makes 15-40; he’s into the match. But then another fine delivery is sent back long, and that’s a very impressive start from the number three seed.

For this to be the match of the tournament, it’ll have to be special, because Muchova v Sabalenka was sensational. But here we go, Djokovic to serve. Play.

Of course, this match is only happening now because Daniil Medvedev won Rome, pushing Djokovic down to number three in the world. However, though I understand why they draw the brackets – to make sure it’s not the same players playing each other every tournament – at majors, I’d always do 1v4 and 2v3 in the semis.

“I’d just like to respond to William’s point”,” emails Upender, “and say that while Nadal had to emerge and challenge Federer at his absolute dominant peak, Djokovic had to drag himself up — from being a fairly distant world number 3 — and beat Nadal at his peak. He also saw off a couple of resurgent periods from Federer, 2015 a case in point.”

The way I see it, Federer’s best was better than Nadal’s best – apart from on clay – and Djokovic was and is the hardest player to beat.

Alcaraz just shines with implacable confidence and inner peace. It’s ridiculous.

Our players are ready to emerge, and here they come!

Mac, resplendent in Strokes tee, is leaning Alcaraz – I love how much he already loves him, especially given how easy it’d be for someone of his epochal brilliance to be sniffy – but I, now that you ask, am leaning Djokovic. You can only get ready to play Djokovic in a slam by playing Djokovic in a slam, and though Alcaraz won their sole previous meeting and it was on clay, it finished (5)6-7 7-6 7-6(5). I guess we might argue Alcaraz has improved more since then, but until we see him out there in this situation, we can’t read much into it

“Am hoping today’s an inflection point in men’s tennis,” tweets Shane Thomas, “but I find it hard to envision Djokovic getting knocked off in a Slam until someone knocks him off.”

Yup, no one beats Djokovic easily, and he’s not been beaten in a major – Rafa in Paris apart – since the final of the US in 2021. It’s true that he’s only played two since then, but he’d also won the three prior to then which, as you say, makes it hard to think hell be beaten until he is.

So how will this match unfold? Luckily, Calv Betton, our resident coach, messages with analysis I’m about to pass off as my own: “I think it’s down to belief. Alcaraz doesn’t have the scar-tissue of having being duffed by Djokovic for half a decade like all the last generation do. He thinks he can beat him. Tactically Alcaraz will be the aggressor. Djokovic will look to make balls and move him around. It’ll come down to whether Alcaraz can hit through him.”

Email! “I am sure you will be hearing from others about this,” begins William Prudham, “but I think it is problematic for you to simply declare in your preamble to the match today that Novak Djokovic is the greatest male tennis player who ever lived. I am sure you can guess that I disagree but the point is that this is a matter of real debate based on match stats and career achievements. And the debate is not settled, as no doubt you know. There is no need to do that and it is disrespectful to Nadal in particular who had to emerge and challenge Federer when Federer was peak Federer.”

That’s just, like, my opinion, man. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to say that I consider Djokovic greater than Nadal, though I’m sure the big man can cope, but I do think Federer hated playing Djokovic much more than he hated playing Nadal.

Photograph: Gramercy Pictures/Sportsphoto/AllstarPreambleSalut! And welcome to Roland-Garros 2023 – day 13!

Individual sport is a funny thing: we may have our personal favourites, but in the main players come and go as we move on. Of course, there are those who sustain, often because they come to represent something greater than themselves – Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Martina Navratilova – or particularly appealing qualities – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray – but in the main, our obsession is with the thing itself, so anything that augments its overall glory gets us going.

Take today’s first semi-final, for example. Most of us watching won’t much care who wins, yet all of us watching are embarrassingly invested in how that winning comes about, buzzing at the prospect and exercising all that remains of our feeble brains to try and predict how it’s going to go.

Novak Djokovic is the greatest male tennis player who ever lived. He might not have John McEnroe’s feel, Pete Sampras’ serve, Roger Federer’s beauty or Rafael Nadal’s forehand, but if you asked any of those who they’d feel least confident about beating, chances are they’d answer him. There is simply no antidote to his combination of elasticity, consistency and composure, which is one reason he’ll end his career out on his own – potentially waaaay out on his own – as the, er, most winningest man of all time.

But maybe not for long, because – and yes I know exactly how ridiculous this sounds – of Carlos Alcaraz. True, one of them has 22 majors and the other just one, taken in a tournament missing Djokovic. But make no mistake, we’re watching the growth of an all-time great, and one unlikely to spend most of his career battling two other all-time greats and another near all-time great for the four Slams on offer each year.

Even at 20, Alcaraz is the complete player – far more so than was Djokovic, who won his first biggun at 21 but didn’t grab them regularly until 27. He knows exactly how good his all-court game is and attacks every match like he expects to win, but also like he must deserve to win, a gorgeous combination of superiority and intensity. He is a joke.

And that’s just our first match! Then when it’s through, we get to enjoy Casper Ruud v Alexander Zverev, on the face of things a fight to decide who loses the final. Except sport doesn’t work like that – and nor do the individuals who play it. On y va!

Play: not before 2.45pm local, 1.45pm BST

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