Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz in semifinals of French Open takes its spot in tennis history

Novak Djokovic is no stranger to this situation — playing in the most anticipated match of the French Open, but it’s not the final.

Djokovic and top seed Carlos Alcaraz meet in Friday’s semifinals, starting no earlier than 8:45 a.m. ET on Tennis Channel. NBC,, the NBC Sports app and Peacock pick up coverage at 11 a.m. ET and live across the country only on Peacock.

Djokovic is used to these kinds of showdowns at Roland Garros, but the man on the other side of the net has been another Spaniard: Rafael Nadal, a man he grew up playing against. Djokovic and Nadal played 10 times at the French Open, including seven times before the final.

These are different circumstances. It is an intergenerational match, not an intragenerational one.

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Djokovic, 36, and Alcaraz, 20, have never played at a major and only played once anywhere. That was last spring, when Alcaraz prevailed 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) in the faster clay conditions in Madrid.

At that time, Alcaraz was not yet a top-five player. He had yet to become the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first of 14 French Open titles in 2005 and the first teen to be ranked No. 1 in the world, both accomplished at the U.S. Open last September.

Friday’s meeting will be closer to a peak-of-their-powers clash.

That makes it a bit different from some past torch-passing matches, such as Roger Federer beating Pete Sampras in the fourth round of 2001 Wimbledon, two years before Federer won his first of 20 majors. Or 19-year-old Sampras taking out Ivan Lendl en route to the 1990 U.S. Open title, seven months after Lendl had won his last major. Granted, who knows what lies ahead for Djokovic and Alcaraz in future Grand Slams.

This near-16-year age gap is the largest in a men’s Grand Slam semifinal since the 1991 U.S. Open (Jim Courier d. Jimmy Connors). There is plenty at stake.

For Djokovic, it is obvious. He can move one match win away from a 23rd Grand Slam singles title, looking to break his tie with Nadal for the men’s record. He can become the first man to win all four majors at least three times.

For Alcaraz, it is a chance, what could be his only chance, to face one of The Big Three at a major. For Sampras and Federer, beating the leaders of the previous generation on the biggest stage became key launching points as their legends grew.

If Alcaraz becomes as big as many believe he can, it would have been considered a loss for tennis had he never played Federer, Nadal or Djokovic at a major.

“Since the draw came out, everyone was expecting that match, you know, the semifinal against Novak,” Alcaraz said Tuesday. “Myself as well. I really want to play that match.”

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