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Novak Djokovic beats cramping Carlos Alcaraz to reach French Open final

Novak Djokovic in action against Carlos Alcaraz in their French Open semi-final. EPA-EFE

PARIS – Novak Djokovic defeated an ailing Carlos Alcaraz 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in the French Open semi-finals on Friday to close in on a record 23rd Grand Slam title.

The 36-year-old, a two-time Roland Garros champion, will break the record he shares with Rafael Nadal for the most men’s Grand Slam titles if he beats Casper Ruud or Alexander Zverev in the final.

The Serb can also eclipse Nadal as the tournament’s oldest winner and regain the No. 1 ranking from Alcaraz, who was severely limited by cramp in the last two sets.

“First and foremost I have to say tough luck for Carlos,” Djokovic said on court after his win.

“At this level the last thing you want is cramp and physical problems at the late stages of a Grand Slam. I hope he can recover and come back very soon.

“I told him at the net, he knows how young he is and he has plenty of time ahead of him and he is going to win this tournament many times, I am sure. He’s an unbelievable player, incredible competitor and very nice guy. He deserves all the applause and support.

“It’s tough for him to know if to retire or finish the match. Congratulations for fighting and hanging in. Great respect.”

The 20-year-old Alcaraz had just levelled the contest when disaster struck the Spaniard as he limped to his bench holding his right leg at 1-1 in the third set.

While he continued playing, the US Open champion was clearly hampered but Djokovic was merciless, dropping only one of 12 games to book a spot in Sunday’s title showdown.

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It was unclear whether Alcaraz, who skipped the Australian Open earlier this season because of a hamstring injury, was suffering from cramp or injured.

“I think we were both at the physical limit at the second set,” Djokovic admitted.

“I wasn’t feeling good at all. We were going toe-to-toe. First set and a half I was playing very well, had some chances and then you know towards the end of the second set he was the better player and he deserved to win the second set.

“Then this thing happened with his cramp and from that moment onwards it was a different match.

“I tried to stay focused and present, I didn’t want to think too much about what was going on at the other side of the net. It was very exhausting for the two sets, I am incredibly proud to reach another final.”

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Djokovic was playing in his 12th French Open semi-final and has made it to his seventh final.

He has also extended his men’s record to 34 Grand Slam finals and is favourite to win on Sunday and by doing so overtake Nadal, who is absent in Paris due to injury.

Victory in the final would make him the first man in history to win each Slam at least three times. AFP, REUTERS