G’day From Paris. 🇫🇷
It’s blockbuster time. 💥
Novak Djokovic versus Carlitos Alcaraz in the men’s semi-final on Friday. It should be the final, but that’s not how the draw shook out.
Who is going to win? I think Novak. I think it will be five sets, and I anticipate it being a spectacular match with big hitting, ridiculous defense, and plenty of emotion.
Why do I pick Novak? Well, for a number of reasons. Some involve the strategic match-up. Some are more about experience, history, revenge, motivation, and handling the moment. Here are 10 things to consider for this mouth-watering heavy-weight encounter.
1: Number 23.
This squarely falls into the history/motivation column. Novak is tied with Rafael Nadal on 22 Grand Slam singles victories. If he beats Alcaraz on Friday and then goes on to win the title on Sunday, he will be the only player in history with 23 titles. And he will have done it in “Rafa’s House.” This kind of external motivation is always a hidden gem for a player. It carries them further when push comes to shove. They feel the destiny of the moment and can feel that they can conquer all adversity that comes before them.
Just think how sweet it would be for Novak to reach No. 23 in Paris. That’s motivation on steroids.
2: Madrid Revenge
Carlitos defeated Novak 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) in Madrid last year in the semi-finals.
At 3-3 in the third set, Djokovic held a break point at Ad Out. He made a tactical error of standing far back against Carlitos’ first serve. Carlitos hit a huge kick serve out wide and served and volleyed. Novak missed it badly wide. He should have been up behind the baseline blocking it back cross court and not giving up court position and time. He won’t make that same mistake again.
At 4-4, Djokovic built a 0-30 lead on Alcaraz’s serve. Normally, the match should be over right there. Djokovic loves to slam the door shut in these types of situations. He let it slip.
Carlitos escaped in Madrid. Novak had him right where he wanted him. It’s hard to imagine Novak letting him wiggle out of a tight spot twice in a row. Plus he now has a better understanding of how to play him.
3: Battle For No. 1 Ranking
If Alcaraz loses in the semi-finals, he will have 7175 points. If Djokovic wins the tournament, he will surge to 7595 points. Novak has already spent 387 weeks at number one. He is tantalizingly close to getting to the monumental milestone of 400 weeks. Knowing this will help provide the motivation to get to one extra ball, to find a little bit of extra motivation and fire and fight and fury that can once again see him sitting on top of the tennis mountain.
4: 2023 Wimbledon
Novak is the red-hot favorite to win Wimbledon again this year. If he does, he will have eight titles there – the exact same as Roger Federer. That’s some legitimate “extra” motivation. If he wins Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he will be at 24 Grand Slams, and the GOAT discussion will start and end with him. All of these external factors are huge motivators for players wanting to etch their name in stone into the history of our sport.
5: The Grand Slam
If Novak beats Carlitos in Friday’s semi-final, he will be a prohibitive favorite to win the final against any of the remaining players on the other side of the draw. Then factor in how much he loves Wimbledon, and there is a VERY real possibility he goes to New York again trying to win the calendar-year Grand Slam. He got ambushed by Medvedev last time. Hard to see that happening again.
6: Roland Garros 2023 Opponents
Carlitos has played three one-handed backhands in a row, including a lefty. That doesn’t exactly get him fully prepared to play Novak in the semis. On the other hand, Novak has played two really strong backhands against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Karen Khachanov. That’s a perfect curtain-raiser to face Alcaraz’s backhand.
7: Roland Garros 2023 Aces
Novak has pumped 31 aces to the semi-finals. Carlitos is about half that at 17. When free points like these come along, it’s going to be like a hit of pure oxygen for either player and a mini respite from the rigors of long rallies. It appears Novak will get to enjoy more of them in this match than Carlitos.
8: Roland Garros 2023 2nd Serve Points Won
This will be a crucial battleground in their semi-final. Carlitos has won 62% (72/116) of second serve points for the tournament, which is in first place. It’s a huge advantage for him coming into this match. Novak is lower at 54% (96/177). That’s still above the tournament average of 49%, but it’s not normally where he is. When everything washes out fairly evenly, whoever wins this specific battle will probably win the match.
9: Roland Garros 2023 Baseline Points Won
Carlitos is at 56% baseline points won, which is first for the tournament. Novak is at 55%, which is third. They are extremely even here.
But I think Novak wins this battle for two reasons.
The first is that Novak knows (or should know by now) that the best place to attack Carlitos is going wide to his forehand. Carlitos has a great forehand, but a little too often plays offense on it when he should be playing defense, and sprays some forehands. It’s the running forehand out wide that you need to watch for.
On the other side of the court, Novak almost never misses this shot. If he is pushed hard to the edge of the court – hitting forehands or backhands – he is amazing on defense and plays a solid, high-percentage shot cross court. Wide, lunging errors are worth their weight in gold for the opponent.
10: Drop Shots
Carlitos is so good at hitting drop shots, mainly from the element of surprise. Novak will be on high alert that they will be coming at any time and should do a good job of negating this tactic. Novak also has the ideal clean, simple backswing on both sides to stay up around the baseline and can use the power of Carlitos’ powerful groundstrokes back against him. If Novak moves too far back, he will immediately be exposed to the drop shots. His groundstroke technique should stop that from happening.
I think Carlitos has to win the opening set, otherwise, the mountain becomes much, much tougher for him to climb. The Khachanov match was a good example of this, as Karen came out hot and won the first set, knowing he had to.
And then Novak regroups and wins the second set. He has momentum on his side. It’s tough for any opponent to win two sets in a row against him.
Then I think they split the next two sets and go to a fifth set. The French crowd will go ape-droppings for whoever is the underdog, so they get to see as much amazing tennis as possible.
Then I think Novak’s experience and sense of the moment and history prevails. He knows this could be a changing of the guard moment. He is still in peak physical shape and needs to push this eventual change further into the future.
Have an amazing match, gentlemen. Can’t wait to watch it all unfold.