French Open 2023: Novak Djokovic onto 34th career Grand Slam final as cramps plague Carlos Alcaraz

Novak Djokovic is onto the 2023 French Open final. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic is onto the 2023 French Open final. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) (Julian Finney via Getty Images)

The youth movement will have to wait.

Despite an incredible first two sets between 36-year-old Novak Djokovic and 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, the more experienced tennis player won in the end. Djokovic advanced to his seventh French Open final and second Grand Slam final in 2023 after he dispatched ATP world No. 1 Alcaraz in four sets: 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1. Alcaraz dropped 10 consecutive games in the final two frames after he sustained cramps in the third set. It was Djokovic's first win over Alcaraz after he lost his last and only match against the Spaniard in the semifinals of the Madrid Open in 2022.

This will be Djokovic's 34th Grand Slam final appearance, which ties him with Chris Evert for most in men's or women's tennis in the Open Era. He is also the oldest man or woman to compete in the French Open final.

After the dominance Alcaraz has shown throughout the French Open, it was surprising to see him stymied so quickly and so thoroughly. Djokovic opened fast and furiously as he stamped his authority on the match in just the third game with these bonkers exchanges.

While Djokovic was whipping off shots with ease, Alcaraz was a bit sluggish. The first set started getting away from him, with Djokovic up 4-1 before his opponent could get a hold. Alcaraz looked like he might be getting more comfortable, but he ended up on the losing end of a marathon 12-minute game that saw him blow three different chances for break point. He managed to win a third game before Djokovic took the set.

Alcaraz was livelier and more successful in the second set. He took his first lead of the match just after he pulled off this absolutely earth-shaking, mind-blowing return.

When Djokovic stops to applaud you just after you beat him in a rally, you're doing something right.

Just after Alcaraz took a 4-3 lead, Djokovic needed a medical timeout to get some massage on his right (dominant) forearm, which he'd been periodically shaking out. But even that didn't stop him. Djokovic kept coming at Alcaraz full force and tied him at 5-5. But now both players were showing off their best tennis, and Alcaraz won the second set after winning the final seven points.

Alcaraz cramps up in the third set

The marathon 77-minute second set perhaps took its toll on the young Alcaraz.

After just two games in the third set, Alcaraz began to limp. With the incredibly hot weather (Friday was the warmest day at Roland Garros so far), one of his legs began to cramp due to exertion and likely dehydration. But cramping is considered a loss of condition and not an injury, so he couldn't take a medical timeout. Instead, when Alcaraz couldn't work out the cramp on his own, he chose to forfeit the third game of the set so he could have time to rehydrate, get a massage, and relax.

It was a big decision for Alcaraz to make, and not one he took lightly. He gave up a service game and a break point, but he desperately needed that time to help him get his body right. Alcaraz actually needed more time, but the only way he could get that was by expending as little energy as possible on the next few games. And that's just what he did as a 1-1 tie became a 4-1 Djokovic lead, and soon after Djokovic won the set.

The break between sets allowed Alcaraz five minutes to go back to the locker room, chug some enhanced water, and get himself back on track. But when a player encounters that kind of physical collapse, it's tough to rebound.

Djokovic almost bagels Alcaraz in fourth

It didn't take long for Djokovic to close out the match. Though Alcaraz put up a fight throughout the fourth and avoided a bagel with a win in the sixth game of the set, Djokovic picked his spots well enough to snatch all the requisite points and claim his spot in the French Open final.

Djokovic will play either Casper Ruud or Alexander Zverev for his 23rd Grand Slam title.