Novak Djokovic could meet world number one Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals
Novak Djokovic defeated Carlos Alcaraz in their French Open semi-final clash on Friday. AFP News

The much anticipated match between world number one Carlos Alcaraz and 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic ended in a somewhat anti-climactic manner after the Spaniard suffered from cramps in the third set. The intensity of the first two sets was everything every tennis fan wanted to see, but such was the pressure on both players that experience allowed the latter to outlast his much younger opponent.

Even though it wasn't the final yet, the semi-final clash between the two players had been the talk of the town ever since the draw was announced. As expected, both players bulldozed through the field to book their clash, which ended in a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory for the Serb.

Alcaraz, who won last year's US Open before missing the Australian Open due to injury, is widely expected to be the man who could possibly dethrone the defending champion. Seen as the heir apparent to Rafael Nadal, the 20-year-old Spaniard had a lot of pressure on his shoulders. After the match, he admitted that the tension and the nerves caused his body to seize up with multiple cramps.

In the first set, Djokovic was in control as an obviously nervous Alcaraz tried to find his rhythm. By the time the second set rolled around, the young man looked like he was finally comfortable on court, and Djokovic started to look visibly exhausted as he tried to stay in the set. After Alcaraz won the second set 5-7, it looked like the 36-year-old was in trouble.

Djokovic had to call for a medical break wherein he received a massage on his arm. Alcaraz was the picture of youth as he stayed on court while his opponent received treatment.

In the third set, it looked like Djokovic would need to bring out his best against the determined youngster before the Spaniard suddenly stopped playing after hitting a return into the net at 40-30 on Djokovic's serve.

It became evident that the issue was serious when Alcaraz immediately stopped the game and limped to his chair. He decided to give up the game, drawing boos from the audience. He then received treatment on his thighs, and on his legs, making it clear that the issue was not isolated on only one spot. He later revealed that even his arms were already cramping up at that point.

Djokovic took the third set easily, and Alcaraz used his medical time out and took as much time as he possibly could before starting the fourth set. At that point, he was also seen taking at least three shots of what could have been electrolytes and other supplements that are meant to help with the cramps.

He was able to play the entirety of the fourth set, but he barely held serve and eventually succumbed to Djokovic. While speaking about what happened, Alcaraz admitted that it was a combination on physical and mental stress that led to his loss.

"It is not easy to play against Novak, he is a legend of our sport. It has been really tough for me. I have never felt tension like I did in that match," he shared, as quoted by the BBC.

Even though he is already a Grand Slam winner and the current world number one, many people forget that Alcaraz is only 20 years old, and has not had much experience on the biggest events on tour. In fact, it was only his first meeting with Djokovic at a Grand Slam and only their second clash overall.

"If someone says he goes onto the court with no nerves playing against Novak, he lies. The tension of the match was why the cramping happened. I started the match really nervous," he added.

To put things in perspective, Alcaraz was only playing in the second major semi-final of his career. Meanwhile, Djokovic had been on the same stage 45 times.

Even though it was not immediately obvious to the watching crowd, Alcaraz was already feeling cramps in his arm before his leg seized up. "At the beginning of the third set I started to cramp every part of my body, not only the legs. The arms, as well, every part of the legs," he explained, saying that it became very difficult for him to move but he did not want to simply quit.

He shared that he knew he only had about a 1 per cent chance of coming back after suffering cramps, but he never thought about retirement. "I would have felt sorry about myself if I retired. I'm in a semi-final of a Grand Slam. If I retired from that, it could have been really tough for me," he said.

Meanwhile, Djokovic was sympathetic and shared his respect for his opponent for soldiering on despite his physical issues. He gave some words of advice, saying that the whole experience is part of the "learning curve" that Alcaraz needs to go through.

"He's only 20, he's got plenty of time. He has showed so much maturity in the last couple of years. His career will be very successful if he manages to keep healthy because the game is there."

Djokovic is now on course to claim a record 23rd Grand Slam title, which would put him ahead of Rafael Nadal in the title race. He will also reclaim the world number one ranking from Alcaraz if he goes all the way in Roland Garros. Casper Ruud will be waiting for him at the other side of Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday, and it remains to be seen which one of them will make history.