Novak Djokovic cruises through after cramp hobbles Carlos Alcaraz and wrecks spellbinding semi

Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros - EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images
Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros - EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

By Simon Briggs at Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic moved into the final of the French Open after a bizarre match which turned when his 20-year-old opponent Carlos Alcaraz cramped up early in the third set.

At that point, the contest had been running for perhaps 2hr 15min. It was a surprise to see a player of Alcaraz’s stature lose physical condition at such an early stage, even if it was another 30-degree day in Paris.

But then, Djokovic had been moving the ball so skilfully around the court that Alcaraz – the world No1 – was forced to perform continuous feats of virtuoso retrieving just to stay in the points.

There were several highlight-reel moments, including a spectacular scooped forehand winner up the line that Alcaraz played with his back to the net.

But all those Alcaraz miracle points must have drained his reserves of energy to the point where his calf abruptly locked up on him.

Alcaraz Garfia plays a forehand return to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their men's singles semi-final match on day thirteen of Roland-Garros - JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images

The spasm happened in the third game of the third set. At that stage, the match was evenly poised. But you cannot compete with a 22-time major winner when your body is malfunctioning.

Alcaraz insisted on seeing out the contest, and his mobility improved slightly over the next hour or so. But he would win only one more game – the penultimate game of the match – before going down to a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 defeat in 3hr 23min.

“First and foremost I have to say tough luck for Carlos,” said Djokovic in his on-court interview. ”Obviously at this level the last thing you want is cramps and physical problems at late stages of a slam, so I feel sorry for him, I hope he can recover and come back quite soon

“I told him at the net, he is young, he has plenty of time left to him, he will win this tournament many times. He is an incredible competitor, a very nice guy, he deserves all the applause and support. It was tough for him to not know whether he should retire or finish the match, but congratulations for the fighting spirit.”

Here was a deserved victory for Djokovic, even if the details were unusual. He was clinical in his ball-striking, brilliant in his shot-selection, and inspired in his tactical approach.

Alcaraz hurt - REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Alcaraz hurt - REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The first set was a little edgy, and no wonder. These two players, who have exchanged the world No1 ranking back and forth over the past nine months, had never previously faced each other over the extended format used at the slams.

The stakes were high for both men, but especially for Djokovic, who is chasing a record-breaking 23rd major title this week.

He scored an early blow when he broke Alcaraz in the fourth game after an inch-perfect rally around the net, and managed to see out the set by staving off all Alcaraz’s desperate attempts to break.

The second set was extremely compelling. Both players’ levels of power and precision reached mind-boggling heights during a sequence of three breaks in five games which decided the outcome in Alcaraz’s favour.

But he paid for his commitment soon after.

“We pushed each other to our physical limit,” said Djokovic later. “After that second set I didn’t feel fresh at all. We went toe to toe. It was an even match. This happened with his cramp and from that moment it was a different match. I tried to stay present. I could see he was struggling on the other side of the net.

Novak Djokovic slides - Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic slides - Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

“It’s not easy to maintain that kind of intensity on the court. For the first set and a half I was really playing very well. I had some chances, but towards the end of second set he was the better player and he deserved to win the second set. I had to be aggressive, I had to take the ball early, because if I didn’t he was going to be the aggressive one, I knew that if I didn’t do that, he was going to take control. I am incredibly proud to reach another finals.”

The Roland Garros crowd – who have been so harsh on numerous players during this event – gave Djokovic a particularly hard time. They booed him resoundingly for half-a-minute or so when he got up to serve at 2-1 in the third set, because he had just been awarded the previous game on technical grounds.

This was a correct ruling from chair umpire Aurelie Torte, however. The rulebook states that, unlike soft-tissue injuries, cramp is not considered a valid reason to stop play. And Alcaraz had been forced to summon an emergency visit from the trainer.

Further boos rang out when Djokovic completed the victory and celebrated with feeling. And yet, by the time he had finished a typically eloquent on-court interview – in both English and French, mind you – the fans were ready to cheer him off the court.

Novak Djokovic vs Carlos Alcaraz: as it happened

05:36 PM

Novak Djokovic speaks

I have to say tough luck for Carlos. At this level  the last thing you want is cramps and physical problems in the late stage of a grand slam. I hope he can recover very soon. I told him at the net how young he is and he’s going to win this tournament many, many times. He’s an unbelievable player, an incredible competitor and a nice guy. It’s tough – he deserves all the support.

It’s tough for him to know whether to retire or continue and credit to him for fighting and hanging in all the way to the last point. Respect to him.

We were both at the physical limit at the end of the second set. I wasn’t feeling fresh at all. It was quite even, we went toe-to-toe. Then this thing happened with his cramps and from then on it was a different match. I tried to stay focused.

It’s not easy to maintain the intensity of the first set and a half. I had to play aggressive, take the ball early. If I didn’t do that he was going to be the aggressive one. He’s very dynamic, a lot of power in his shots, great intensity, It’s exhausting!

I’m proud to reach another finals. I’m very, very happy.

05:27 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 Alcaraz

Game, set and match Djokovic, holding to 15 after three fine opening serves. Alcaraz raises himself to win a spiffing forehand rally but then dumps another forehand into the net.

Djokovic makes his seventh French Open singles final and goes in pursuit of his third Roland Garros title and 23rd slam overall.

05:24 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 5-1 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Smiles all round when Alcaraz shows his velvet touch at the net to win a drop shot exchange and then he pushes Djokovoc wide with his serve to move to 40-15.

But he loses his range with his backhand. 40-30

Djokovic hoops a forehand long. Alcaraz holds. Well done.

05:21 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 5-0 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic smacks a couple of serves down the T Alcaraz then comes to the net with a defensive volley that surprised Djokovic but he fired the attempted winner long. No mind as he feasts on errors to square it at deuce. Even a static Alacaraz can swing with awesome power.

Djokovic gets out frim under at deuce with a pair of venomous serves.

Alcaraz to serve to stay in the match /prolong his masochistic tour of duty.

05:16 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 4-0 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Djokovic breaks to 15. Double fault in there, too. Djokovic is stretching the struggling Alacaraz’s mobility to the limit with his returns.

05:13 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 3-0 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

A ninth game in a row for Djokovic in a virtually indescribable cakewalk. Some improvement from Alcaraz but he can’t reach the corners or the net.

05:08 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 2-0 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Certainly more mobile than he was but not enough to battle Djokovic who breaks his serve to 15.

05:05 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 1-0 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic begins with an ace but then nets a drop shot. Alcaraz seems to be moving more freely. Not at second set levels but far better than he was in the third. Another Djokovic error gives his opponent the lead but the big serve down the centre ties it up at 30-all. A flashing forehand gives Alcaraz break point which Djokovic defends with an ace.

Djokovic winds up the crowd with a seemingly petulant show of disapproval for a ball not being called out during a rally, scraping the ball mark with his racket. The injury has diminished both players and Djokovic leaves a drop shot short, giving Alcaraz a second break point.

This one is defended with a kick-serve. Alcaraz tosses and catches his racket after failing to clear the net with a shoulder-height forehand. Djokovic pumps his fist and shouts when he closes out the hold with a torpedo firts serve.

04:57 PM

After a lengthy 'comfort break'

We’re ready to resume on court. Miracle cure? I doubt it.

04:50 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

It’s not a very pleasant viewing experience. Like watching a coup de grace or a dissection. Everyone is stunned. Alcaraz still manages a pair of forehand winners but Djokovic breaks to 30 and takes a 2-1 lead.

04:48 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 5-1 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Shrewd point made by Simon Reed – Djokovic takes great credit for this . His intensity has taken Alcaraz further physically than he has ever been before. Alcaraz can still fire winners but he can’t engage in rallies or go anywhere near the net.

Djokovic holds to 15.

Alcaraz is basically just trying to wait it out, hoping the fluids and electrolytes will suddenly kick in.

04:45 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 5-7, 4-1 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Cramp has utterly changed the tenor of the match. Djokovic breaks to love. Alcaraz just can’t move. On comes the trainer again. What difference will that make? Can’t do much, I wouldn’t have thought. The thing is to catch it before it climaxes.

The atmosphere has changed from Beatlemania to jagged concern and disappointment.

04:42 PM

The moment of the spasm

04:41 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 3-1 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic tries to exploit Alcaraz with surgical precision but cannot get it right yet and allows his opponent to try some death or glory shots with his movement so badly impeded. It’s a strategy that squares the game at deuce. Djokovic is discombobulated by what’s happened.

Alcaraz cannot move freely. He’s like the Tin Man. And Djokovic hits the wings and Alcaraz cannot cope.

04:36 PM

The umpire explains the rule

But the boos continue a while longer.

Djoko to serve.

04:35 PM

Alcaraz is receiving treatment

But has to forfeit points to be able to get help, which means he essentially loses a game to get him to the changeover when he can receive medical help.

It looks very painful indeed. It happens to men of my age while we’re sleeping.

Break for Djokovic.

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 2-1 Alcaraz. That’s the rule but the crowd is booing fervently.

04:32 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 1-1 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Proper gun-slinging game, Alcaraz going blow for blow with Djokovic and exploiting his slip to take a 15-30 lead. A spitting cobra of a second serve from Djokovic. however, squares it at 30-all.

Djokovic reads Alcaraz’s attempt at a pass down the line, scurries to the corner of his deuce court and flays a crosscourt winner to earn game point. Alcaraz has cramp in the right leg and Djokovic exploits it to fire a serve at his toes to win the game.

It’s his calf and apparently you can’t take a time out for cramp.

04:27 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 5-7, 0-1 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Djokovic vexes the the crowd by taking rather longer over his comfort break than they thought necessary. Alcaraz eggs them on a touch. When they resume for another hard-fought game, Alcaraz closes out the hold with a glorious, double-fisted backhand lob that catches Djokovic out, his momentum taking him in the opposite direction.

04:16 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-7 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz races to love-40 and three break points ... just like in Djokovic’s previous service game. Dicing with danger again. Time for another of his Houdini acts?

Nope, not this time. Djokovic spears a forehand long and allowis Alcaraz to break to love and tie things up at one set all after the most compelling set anyone could wish to witness.

04:11 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 5-6 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz’s stamina is phenomenal. He manages to drag back a rally he was on the verge of losing with the most remarkable forehand, elastically stretching to reach balls he had no right to reach. Two subtle drops earn him two points.

But Djokovic won’t give in and bookends them with two forehand passes while the Spaniard was at the net – 30-all.

Djokovic misses putting away a passing chance and immediately turns to his box. Goran Ivanisevic utters some consoling/inspirational words and at 40-30 Djokovic wins an extraordinary rally with an ice-cold drop winner. ‘Tennis from the gods,’ says the great Simon Reed.

Djokovic turns the screw. Advantage ... but he wastes it by thumping a backhand crosscourt wide. Once again he turns to his coach. And Alcaraz turns the table with a punishing forehand. Game point.

And he takes it ... withstanding Djokovic’s scramble defence to take a 6-5 lead.

Carlos Alcaraz Garfia celebrates a point against Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their men's singles semi-final match on day thirteen of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrie - EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images
Carlos Alcaraz Garfia celebrates a point against Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their men's singles semi-final match on day thirteen of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrie - EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

04:01 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 5-5 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz has the happy knack of not dwelling on his frustrations and unfurls two withering forehand winners to take a love-30 lead.

Not the right time for Djokovic to try a milky drop shot from the back of the court. Alcaraz races to the net to chip a winner back across court, right to left.

Three break points. Djokovic defends the first bit only just after a long rally and even then Alcaraz makes 15m to get to the drop shot and fires his response only a few centimetres long. 15-40

Make that 30-40 as Djokovic serve-volleys devastatingly, the serve right up the T.

And now its deuce with a vicious wide serve to Alcaraz’s backhand that he can only just reach, never mind get back.

Four points in a row with a second unreturnable serve. Advantage Djokovic.

What a warrior! He holds his nerve and his serve, Alcaraz whipping an attempted pass after an epic rally wide. The crowd gives him a marvellous ovation.

03:54 PM

Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros

The medical time-out for Djokovic’s right wrist/elbow/forearm area is interesting. He does have something of a record for dealing quite publicly with physical issues during matches. Some have suggested in the past that it can be distracting for his opponents. 

03:53 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 4-5 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

At 15-30 and fears of a wobble, Alcaraz rams down an ace. 30-all. But when he responds, in the next point, to Djokovic’s crafty crosscourt drop, he flicks it wide.

Break-back point. Alcaraz defends it with a high-kicking, Folies Bergère second-serve. Djokovic gobble sit up with a backhand but pulls it wide. Deuce.

A mistake from Alcaraz gives Djokovic andother break point, and the Spaniard tosses his racket in self-disgust. Djokovic RSVPs the second invitation to break back with an astonishing backhand winner up the line.

Break-back.  The match is a classic.

03:45 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 3-5 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

New balls for Djokovic’s serve. They bring him an ace down the centre line but Alcaraz’s power with overheads at the net as Djokovic is partially blinded by the sun seize the initiative at 15-30. Then Alcaraz, having been pushed wide, powers his attempted drive up the line into the net, 30-all.

Break point for Alcaraz after Djokovic chips a drop at the net too long. Djokovic defends it by containing Alcaraz’s power and waiting for his patience to crack until he goes for an implausible winner and smokes it long.

Break point II arrives when Djokovic volleys too long. And this time Alcaraz’s power and velocity is rewarded, shoving Djokovic progressively deeper until he can’t keep his defensive shots in play.

Break. Alcaraz serves for the set.

03:37 PM

Djokovic calls for a medical timeout

And he’s having his right wrist and forearm looked at and massaged.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after missing a shot against Spain's Carlos Alcaraz during their semifinal match of the French Open - P Photo/Christophe Ena
Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after missing a shot against Spain's Carlos Alcaraz during their semifinal match of the French Open - P Photo/Christophe Ena

03:34 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 3-4 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Some points in this match have been artistic masterpieces and another takes Alcaraz to 30-15 when he trades drop shots at the net. Then signs that the match might turn as errors creep into Djokovic’s backhand execution after being given the runaround. Seems like a momentum shifting hold for the Young Pretender.

03:29 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 3-3 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic serves into the wind that has whipped up again and picks the best time to unleash his first ace. He then buries Alcaraz’s return on the volley to race to 30-love. Alcaraz’s backhand to a body serve proves vulnerable again – 40-love. And then the man from Murcia gets a sniff with a rasping forehand ... then lamps his backhand too long again. As holds go, as this match goes, that was straightforward.

03:25 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 2-3 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz holds to 15, Djokovic slightly unnerved after a slip which draws a glare at the untrustworthy surface beneath his Asics.

Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros

After six Djokovic service games I calculate that Alcaraz has missed 11 returns, which feels like a lot on a clay court.

Incidentally, that rotating back-to-the-net Alcaraz winner ⇣ is one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen, and surely the shot of this tournament. I can’t remember a reaction like Djokovic’s either, giving it the full salute! That moment could help Alcaraz relax.

03:21 PM

Here's that Alcaraz magic

03:20 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 2-2 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

John McEnroe tells Alcaraz to stand closer to return, which he does, but he can’t defend a trampolining kick serve wherever he stands. At 15-all Djokovic ends a three-stroke point with a vicious forehand and follows that by beating Alcaraz again in the forecourt battle with a cute drop shot. Alcaraz, scrambling, slips. 40-15.

A backhand error from Alcaraz gives Djokovic the game. The great champ knew he was up for a huge test but has chosen to go toe-to-toe and is serving and smiting his forehands with more force than at any time in his long career.

03:15 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 1-2 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Wicked body serve from Alcaraz starts proceedings at 15-love.

Goodness me ... Alcaraz hares to the back of the court after leaving a drop shot short and somehow swivels to nail the deftest of underhand winners while he was still facing the wrong way. Djokovic smiles and bows.

Another duel at the net ends this time with Djokovic smashing an overhead too long. That was a chance to take it to deuce. Instead Alcaraz closes out the hold.

03:10 PM

Djokovic 6-3, 1-1 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz is giving it everything but the kitchen sink and his attacking shots, designed for an early break, prove just too risky. Djokovic’s forehand is unrelentingly excellent and he holds to 15. Too many errors from Alcaraz.

Mike Tyson, resplendent in primrose Lacoste, is also courtside.

03:05 PM

Djokovic* 6-3, 0-1 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

After the Lord Mayor’s show ... Alcaraz holds to love.

03:00 PM

Djokovic 6-3 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic double faults for the third time at 30-15 and then Alcaraz earns himself a break point with a steamhammer forehand followed by the snidest little chip over his advancing foe. Djokovic brings out the trebuchet serve to defend it and again to switch from deuce to advantage.

Djokovic ties up the firsts et in 56 minutes, with another crushing serve to Alcaraz’s backhand.

02:53 PM

Djokovic* 5-3 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz ahead but three errors allow Djokovic back in to deuce. Alcaraz holds his nerve with a booming wide serve with the wind at his back to take it to advantage but this curate’s egg of a performance from the Young Pretender then gives us another error as he hooks a backhand into the net. Deuce.

Djokovic’s impregnable defence and manipulation of his opponent eventually draws the error. Boldness does not deserve Alcaraz who goes kick-serve, mighty forehand to defend it. And he follows that with an ace, his fastest serve of the match so far, then reels off a gorgeous backhand winner.

Djokovic will have to serve for the set.

02:48 PM

Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros

Wow that Djokovic service game at 4-2 was one of the most high-tension games I’ve ever watched. The stakes were officially ma-hoosive. Alcaraz had a huge rant at his box after missing a regulation backhand at 15-30. Djokovic sent down a 76mph second serve that barely cleared the net on break point. He got lucky with a framed forehand on the same point that landed deep and straight. But he sees off three break points and is now in the box seat.

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz Garfia reacts as he plays against Serbia's Novak Djokovic - THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images
Spain's Carlos Alcaraz Garfia reacts as he plays against Serbia's Novak Djokovic - THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images

02:45 PM

Djokovic 5-2 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic slows the pace down and brings out the serve-volley tactic to surprise Alcaraz. If it goes the distance in this heat, Djokovic does well to slow it down. A couple of errors from the two-times champion gives Alcaraz a sniff at 15-30. But Djokovic, as ever in the clutch, puts so much stress on his opponent that he crumples, getting his forehand range wrong. A low bounce and the wind gull Djokovic into dragging a forehand into the net. Deuce for the first time.

What a moment to double fault for the second time. Djokovic again signals that it’s the wind’s fault. Break point. And he’ll have to defend it on his second serve ... and defend it he does by staying in the rally long enough, that concentration and some steep bounce drawing the error, even after he framed his first groundstroke.

A fine forehand winner up the line from Alcaraz gives him another break point. His speed across court is mesmerising. The very next point, however, is Alcaraz’s journey from hero o zero when he nets his return. It was wide on his backhand but not so high that he couldn’t control it.  

When Djokovic follows that by winning the next point after Alcaraz fires a forehand long, Djokovic celebrates like he’s won a tournament. That’s how much it means. Alcaraz isn’t finished, though, goes to the net and Djokovic pumps his attempted pass too long.

The game enters its 13th minute with Alcaraz having a third break point. Djokovic defends that one with three cannonball forehands followed by a backhand volley winner at the net. A deuce, Alcaraz’s error, scooping his forehand too long, allows Djokovic game point.

Now the wind really starts to blow and the clay cloud envelops Djokovic. He takes no mind, though, and fires down a bullet serve to win the game.

02:31 PM

Djokovic* 4-2 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz wallops down his first ace. trying to fight fire with fire. Djokovic has come out swinging, landing blow after blow but the wunderkind strikes back ... but not for long as Djokovic nails a return winner.

The slippy surface costs Djokovic the chance of a point at 15-30 and then Alcaraz whips a forehand winner. 40-30.

Neither player is finding it easy to keep on their feet. ‘I’ve never seen it so dry,’ says John McEnroe. Djokovic follows up his return with a short volley that Alcaraz hammers back down the line to win the game to 30.

02:27 PM

Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros

Huge tension around for the opening games. It’s the sort of dynamic we were expecting, with Alcaraz the aggressor and Djokovic looking to hang in the points until the error comes. The steep bounce generated by Alcaraz’s heavily topspun forehand already looks like it could be a factor.

02:25 PM

Djokovic 4-1 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic is looking irrepressible, using his hammer of a serve followed by an ability to anticipate exactly where the return is coming, if Alcaraz can get it over, sliding and stretching like Mr Boombastic. At 40-15 there’s a slight delay when the floodlights flicker on. And that produces a first double fault. 40-30.

Djokovic closes out the hold when Alcaraz nets a backhand he was trying to flash across the court.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his semi final match against Spain's Carlos Alcaraz - REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his semi final match against Spain's Carlos Alcaraz - REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

02:21 PM

Djokovic* 3-1 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Excellent backhand followed by a fine volley give Alcaraz a 30-15 lead. The next point is magnificent, Djokovic’s calm defence, trading drop shot with drop shot helps him tie it up, his athleticism and sliding ability taking him to places very few can reach. That’s the perfect time to pull out the monster return. Break point and he seals it after another superb rally containing three drops shots and the sweetest of volleys.

First break of serve.

02:15 PM

Djokovic 2-1 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic pulls off one of those Inspector Gadget full-stretch forehands and finds such devastating power that Alcaraz cannot retrieve it deep in his deuce court and the Spaniard loses the next point too, hooking a forehand surprisingly long when it seemed to come on to him nicely.

A brilliant return followed by a Djokovic forehand error, driving it long takes the score to 30-all which is the moment Djokovic tries a serve-volley for the firts time and he pulls it off skilfully. Djokovic’s forehand kettles Alcaraz very wide in his deuce court which sets him up for a whipped forehand winner at 40-30. Alcaraz defended well but was wring-footed when the winner arrowed straight back whence he’d came.

02:10 PM

Djokovic* 1-1 Alcaraz (*denotes next server)

Alcaraz betrays his nerves at 15-love when he leaves aforehand short and it sits up invitingly. When he fires it close into Alcaraz’s body and the ball bounces high, Alcaraz slices wildly. But he recovers to win two close rallies to edge ahead at 40-15 then holds his serve with a couple of mighty forehands, absolutely pinning Djokovic behind the baseline.

02:06 PM

Djokovic 1-0 Alcaraz* (*denotes next server)

Almost the perfect start for Djokovic, nailing booming serves and forcing Alcaraz to return one long and another into the net, the first on the backhand, the second on the forehand. But when Alcaraz gets a return in his third shot of the rally is a wonderful backhand winner up the line to take it to 40-15. Djokovic’s kicking, ecntral serve closes out the hold to 15. Five very good first serves from Djokovic.

02:03 PM

Sound the trumpets

Djokovic to serve first. It’s a packed house, for once, at the start of the match.

02:00 PM

Out come the players

Djokovic first in his orange duds, Alcaraz in the white and green number, above, he has worn all week. Alcaraz received the bigger roar, perhaps but both were pretty loud.

Here’s that treadmill jig:

01:49 PM

Simon Briggs reports from Roland Garros

Weather update: it’s hot (perhaps 30 degrees) and windy on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Someone’s hat has just blown onto the court and been returned to them by security.

On paper, the breeze should suit Alcaraz (who once said “I like the windy”) more than Djokovic (the ultimate control freak).

Again, on paper, the heat should suit Alcaraz, because it will make his majestic forehand (which Eurosport pundit Mats Wilander says he “smacks so hard that it’s nearly a lack of respect for the game itself”) even more big and bouncy.

But this match is about to be contested on that most quixotic of surfaces: red clay. So who really knows how the conditions will play out?

01:45 PM

We're about 10 minutes away from the start

Europsort is showing Novak Djokovic pacing on a treadmill as he prepares to come out on to court.

01:42 PM

Brain, heart and, erm, stones

John McEnroe is asked to interpret it and, wearing a splendid Strokes T-shirt, splendidly says ‘I’m not on Twitter so how do I know?’

10:47 AM

Preview: The boy who would be king (of France)

Good afternoon and welcome to live coverage of the first French Open men’s semi-final between Novak Djokovic, who began the year by winning the Australian Open, his 22nd slam title, and Carlos Alcaraz, who rounded off last year by winning his first at the US Open.

Alcaraz, “the most complete 20-year-old I have ever seen” according to John McEnroe, made very short work of Stefanos Tsitsipas in a 6-2, 6-1. 7-6 victory, utilising that astonishing array of shots to drive his opponent to distraction, mainly with that formidable forehand drop shot. He is the No1 seed and favourite, despite Djokovic’s record, relish for the fight and undiminished ability to resemble a giant octopus wrestling allcomers to eventual suffocation.

“He deserves his success, no doubt,” said Djokovic of Alcaraz. “He’s working hard and he’s a very complete player already and only 20. So we played only once in Madrid last year, 7-6 in the third for him. Most of the tournaments this year we were not in the same draw but here we are.

“That’s the match that a lot of people want to see. It’s definitely the biggest challenge for me so far in the tournament. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. He’s definitely a guy to beat here. I’m looking forward to that.”

They both reached the semi-finals dropping only one set but, Alcaraz has been the more impressive, spending three-and-a-half hours less on court than Djokovic in his five matches so far.

The Murcian chico spoke of his excitement at finally playing Djokovic again after their solitary meeting last year, which he won by the barest of margins at the Madrid Open, 67, 7-5, 7-6.  “Since the draw came out,” he said, “everyone was expecting that match, the semi-final against Novak. Myself as well. I really want to play that match. Since last year I really wanted to play again against Novak. We both are playing a great level. I’m going to enjoy it.

“Of course, for me, it’s amazing to make history, playing a semi-final with such a legend like Novak. So it’s going to be a great match for me. I would say the match we played last year doesn’t affect too much this one. We both learned a lot from that match, so it’s going to be totally different, and let’s see what happens on Friday.”

We’re about to find out.