Almost every time a young player has an advantage over Novak Djokovic, there comes a moment that knocks him off the top of tennis.
It doesn’t matter how deep the hole Djokovic dug for himself or how well the whippersnapper on the other side of the net is playing.
Perhaps Djokovic is trailing by two sets, as he faced Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final two years ago and Janik Sinner in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. Perhaps Djokovic suffered an injury after tying for his opponent, much like he did at the 2021 Australian Open when he tore his abs after four sets against Taylor Fritz and lost a two-set lead. Probably walking around the court.
And another man, like 20-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz will face Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals on Friday, he actually has something big ahead of him. I’m starting to think it might. From the spring of 2022 to his longed-for sport.
When you start imagining Djokovic’s opponents grabbing the win, the racket gets a little heavier and the elbow a little stronger. Over the years, after all those matches in the closing stages of Grand Slam tournaments, Djokovic, 36, can spot it even from a mile away.
You don’t have to. Djokovic, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, is close to within 80 feet and believes in his heart that everything will go his way.
The same thing happened on Tuesday after a more than two-hour battle with Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals. Khachanov, a big, beefy Russian with a hammer-like serve and forehand and nearly a decade of low mileage on his legs, won the first set and took the tiebreaker in the second. he had a gap.
or not. Djokovic tied the match in a perfect 7-0 tiebreaker. He scored first with a serve break in the first game of the next set. Khachanov is finished.
“The energy on the court shifted to my side,” Djokovic said after sending Khachanov out.
But when Djokovic takes on Alcaraz, who has stole the No. 1 ranking twice in the past nine months, it will be a test for a young man like he has never faced before. The two have only played once for Madrid in May 2022. In the 13 months since then, Djokovic and Alcaraz have kept crossing paths for some reason.
Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti, 21, who was eliminated in the fourth round at Alcaraz this week, said the player he met on the European junior circuit was “the perfect player”.
The idiosyncratic moments when one generation inherits from another can feel like a plate shift. In men’s tennis, there are occasional matches that pass the torch. Pete Sampras defeated John McEnroe at the 1990 US Open. In 2001, Roger Federer defeated Sampras on Center Court at Wimbledon. Will there be another match?
World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, the only player currently in his 20s to beat Djokovic in a Grand Slam final, has been a Djokovic until recently, losing several times to Djokovic. said it was nearly impossible to beat Opponents will have to get used to his shot pattern and relentless ability to get another shot after a point is thought to be over.
Not so with Alcaraz. Alcaraz beat Djokovic in a deciding-set tiebreak in their only matchup (although it was a first-to-three match). So far, Alcaraz has shown none of the vulnerability that players of his generation, even those a few years older than the next tennis star, showed in the big moments against Djokovic. .
“I really want to play that match,” Alcaraz said late Tuesday after beating Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals to secure a showdown with Djokovic. “I will enjoy it.”
One of the old adages about sports in general, and tennis in particular, is that by the time athletes have the wisdom and experience necessary to truly decipher the sport’s codes, their bodies have betrayed them. Djokovic is turning this idea into action.
It’s no coincidence. He seldom drinks alcohol. He tries to get eight and a half hours of sleep each night, with an emphasis on primary REM sleep time. His post-match gym and stretching routine can sometimes seem as hard as a normal person’s workout.
It is also difficult to argue that tennis has a healthier, more developed brain. Djokovic was long ago rethinking the angle of the game, hitting new shots, finding new ways to win matches and titles, a time when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were doing equally difficult things. became the world’s top-ranked player. ever had. These days, baseball pitchers vary the pace and cadence of their points so easily that they interweave fastballs, curveballs, sinkers and changeups in each at-bat. And he serves and volleys like his 1980s players. Just to make sure everyone knows he can do it too.
He has exchanged notes on mental strength with superstars in tennis and other sports, including Boris Becker, Kobe Bryant and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to name a few. he meditates He knows how to focus when he doesn’t have to like others. He appeared in five tiebreakers in the tournament and made no unforced errors.
Approaching his 45th Grand Slam semifinal, Djokovic has become a master of a five-set format with almost inevitable emotional dips and swings. He appears to have spent the first set gathering information about his opponent. As he has done in the last two Wimbledon finals and even the next one, it doesn’t matter if he loses the set. We still have plenty of time.
“He’s always there, he’s always pushing,” Khachanov said. “He always tries to find a way.”
Whether it works against Alcaraz is a big mystery on Friday. Alcaraz has displayed many of the benefits of youth so far, including the speed, strength, power and optimism of a player who has few bad days, but he has shown few pitfalls. He has the kind of boundless joy and joy that other players struggle to comprehend, just as he struggles to cope with his forehand speed and his unparalleled improvisational shot-making. Play with freedom.
Alcaraz coach Juan Carlos Ferrero said Alcaraz always wanted to be one step ahead. When he was competing in his tournament in the sport’s third tier Futures, he believed he was ready for the second tier Challengers. While playing for the Challengers, he believed he was ready for the main tour.
“He can hit every shot on the court,” Ferrero said. “If I ask him to go to the net at match point, he can do it. Or if I ask him to go back to the net, he can do it and make a drop shot.
He can play long point or short point. whatever it takes.
Since Tuesday night, Tsitsipas has lost to both Djokovic and Alcaraz on Friday’s court. Like everyone else, Tsitsipas positioned the match as a match between the game’s cutting edge brains, players who try to manipulate opponents and control every shot, against the purest, fastest talent in the game. Told.
“One has experience and the other has legs and can move like Speedy Gonzalez,” Tsitsipas said. “They can hit huge, super-big shots. And the other likes accuracy and likes to put pressure on them and move them as much as possible.”
who will win?
“I support the kids,” Tsitsipas said.
I need all the help I can get against Djokovic.