Djokovic through to seventh Roland-Garros final after cramp destroys Alcaraz’s chances

It was two hours of excitement followed by a major anti-climax as Carlos Alcaraz’s body failed him

Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic, Roland-Garros 2023 Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic, Roland-Garros 2023 | © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

It was two hours of excitement, hot-shots, mistakes and genius. The crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier were enthralled, as were the watching millions, finally getting to enjoy the second meeting of Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz, the two men in contention for the world No 1 spot fighting it out for a place in the Roland-Garros final.

But a bout of severe cramp that struck the Spaniard in the third set put paid to all that, and Djokovic was the victor in a somewhat subdued atmosphere, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz suffers with cramp at Roland-Garros (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

Unsurprisingly, it had been the 22-time Grand Slam champion who was quickest out of the blocks in his 394th major match, compared to his opponent’s 37th. Djokovic dominated on his first serve and took the first set in clinical style.

Then Alcaraz began to put together a delightful sizzle reel, most notably a shot from the centre; racing back from the net, almost making as if to hit the tweener, he stepped to the side and back, scooping it over a stranded Djokovic and into the corner. Even Djokovic had to laugh and applaud.

And towards the end of the second set the Spaniard got his first break – his fifth opportunity, one hour and 40 minutes into the match, to give himself the chance to serve out the set.

Instead, Djokovic broke straight back, scything a backhand down the line. It fired up Alcaraz even further, sprinting to 40-0 and three set points. Djokovic saved each of them and held serve – so Alcaraz took his next opportunity instead, this time managing to break to love.

Third set: Alcaraz suffers with cramp

The crowd whistled and jeered ahead of the third set with Alcaraz ready on court and Djokovic still not at his chair. The Serb had received some treatment on his right arm during the previous set, with the trainer appearing to be manipulating his forearm.

Twelve minutes into the third set, after Djokovic held serve, Alcaraz pulled up, entirely stationary, apparently suffering with cramp in his right leg. Umpire Aurelie Tourte came down to see if he could continue, with Djokovic crossing to his side of the court to see how he was feeling. Requiring treatment, the 20-year-old decided to forfeit his service game rather than wait until the change of ends, giving Djokovic the lead in the third set, much to the noisy disgust of the crowd.

After that, the third set petered out in just over half an hour, and Alcaraz headed off court, looking up at coach Juan Carlos Ferrero despairingly.

The atmosphere on court was muted throughout the fourth, with a scattering of boos for Djokovic and encouraging cheers for a significantly hampered Alcaraz, as the match limped to the inevitable conclusion.

Djokovic is now through to his seventh Roland-Garros final as he chases his 23rd Grand Slam title.

What is the rule on muscle cramps during play?

The rulebook states that if a player has cramp, they should resume play immediately. However, it adds: “If a player cannot continue playing due to severe muscle cramping, as determined by the sports physiotherapist and/or tournament doctor, he/she may forfeit the point(s)/game(s) needed to get to a change of ends or set-break in order to receive treatment.”

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