Paris, Jun 10 (IANS): Novak Djokovic moved to within one win of capturing a record 23rd major crown on Friday at French Open, where he moved past an ailing Carlos Alcaraz 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in the semi-finals, here.
The 36-year-old Serbian came out firing in the generational battle on Court Philippe-Chatrier, pulling the 20-year-old Spaniard around with destructive and consistent groundstrokes to win the first set. Alcaraz and Djokovic went blow to blow, with both demonstrating exceptional agility and movement in a high-quality and engrossing opening first two sets.
After Alcaraz levelled the match, he started to cramp in the right calf at the start of the third set, and forfeited his service game at 1-1 so he could fast-forward to a changeover and be treated by an ATP physio.
The Spaniard, who missed the Australian Open this year due to a leg injury, was unable to chase down shots and drive through the ball, with Djokovic moving back ahead. The third seed then soared through the fourth set against Alcaraz to advance after three hours and 23 minutes.
"First and foremost I have to say tough luck for Carlos. Obviously at this level the last thing you want is cramp and physical problems at 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," said Djokovic in his on-court interview.
"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, an incredible competitor and a very nice guy, so he deserves all the applause and all the support," he added.
Meeting for the first time this season, Alcaraz and Djokovic have waged a neck-and-neck battle in the ATP Rankings in 2023, trading the top spot four times. Following his 26th win of the season, Djokovic will surpass Alcaraz and return to World No. 1 if he defeats Casper Ruud or Alexander Zverev in Sunday's final.
The two-time Roland Garros champion Djokovic, who is into his 34th major championship match and seventh in his past eight majors, is the second-oldest finalist in tournament history (since 1925).
Sixteen years his junior, Alcaraz was the youngest man to advance to the semi-finals at Roland Garros since a then-20-year-old Djokovic did in 2007. The top seed captured his maiden major title at the US Open last year, but will not add to his tally in Paris after he struggled physically to stay with Djokovic during Friday's semi-final.