A beautiful litigation, until everything jumps through the air. Ugly closing. Third partial, second game and, in his attempt to subtract, Carlos Alcaraz is suspended in the air, traces the foreshortening to hit a right and when falling, he feels that he has broken. That's where the semifinal ends. The action continues, but the party is dead. He does not abandon Spanish, but everything is said. Again, misfortune, misfortune. The physique. Carlitos and injuries. Your calf, quadriceps, groin hurt. His soul hurts. Injury? A calambrazo? The Roland Garros that I wanted so much vanishes and Novak Djokovic – "I feel very sorry for him, he is an incredible competitor; he will win this tournament many times" – he lands in his seventh final in Paris, the 34th of a Grand Slam: 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 and 6-1, after 3h 23m. The Serb is just one step away from his twenty-third major and regaining the world throne; only Alexander Zverev or Casper Ruud, cited in the other semifinal, can prevent it. Bad taste in the mouth in the Bois de Boulogne, on this Friday of embarrassment. He's a kid.
"It can't be," laments the Murcian before, at the moment when the dream ends. "It can't be, man," addresses his coach the number one. "Let's make one last attempt...", he tells the chair judge, Aurélie Tourte, who in an almost maternal attitude, tells him that if he stops the development he loses the game and that later, when the boy (20 years old) has already been treated, he decides exclusively. Alcaraz continues, but this assault on Paris ends and the old order (for the moment) prevails. Another accident. In January it was the abdominal (before traveling to Australia); in March (Rio de Janeiro) one leg; last year another mishap in the core (November, Paris-Bercy) and now the physical (punished by tension) returns to slow him down at a delicate moment, when he had managed to balance an episode of maximum demand with the veteran totem of the Balkans, 16 years older.
Much more than a match; Much more than a semi-final
Before everything explodes, in the central there is the aroma of a great day and Djokovic, who knows them all, brings the tuxedo to the party and wears his best clothes. The Serbian definitely comes out of the burrow. It is Nole (36 years old) in all its expression, the imperial Serb, the portentous, the dominant; sublime in each and every one of his blows. Masterful in interpretation. He shifts up and down, changes heights, arches the shot to prevent the guy from hitting at waist height, and blatantly throws his backhand, over and over again. There's the key, he thinks. Not because Alcaraz's falters out there, in any way, but because he does not want the one in front to have the slightest opportunity to take his right for a walk, that drive so bestial that this time it loses presence.
Alcaraz limps at the moment of the mishap. Associated Press/LaPresseJean-Francois Badias (APS)
The Spaniard starts with three errors, which is rare. His first drop, open, goes to the hall, and the second is guessed by Djokovic, who the day before had been rehearsing half an hour how to try to abort that resource. They are measured in the network, and the one in Belgrade becomes immense, without leaving a single gap. "I-de-mo, I-de-mo, I-de-mo!" "Let's go, let's go, let's go!" his compatriots wrap him up from the rostrum. Djokovic's backhand sections, finds again and again the baseline from both profiles and imposes his plan. He puts one gear or another, as it suits him, and Alcaraz begins to get lost in that mental labyrinth in which so many have fallen. Enter headlong into the quagmire. Djokovic started playing this match from day 1 in Paris, disguised as a lamb.
Before, an anthological reverse
Its status and reliability can never be underestimated. The first one you have, the dentellate is huge. It breaks and agitates. Doubts, doubts and more doubts until the semifinal, but at the moment of truth, it is resized, levitates through the Chatrier, closes doors – five break options annulled in the first five attempts available to the Murcian – and wraps the duel of the pastiness that interests him. He bounces the ball a thousand times, he eternalizes in each service, he slows down when the wind blows and the dust gets into his eyes. Djokovic the strategist. The cacique. Eel with slingshots and spray the game of traps. And Alcaraz, who until this point in the tournament had sailed in calm waters, begins to transmit his nervousness. He is tense, he suffers.
Djokovic and Alcaraz greet each other at the end of the match. JULIEN DE ROSA (AFP)
The phrase is more than revealing. The tennis player shouts first, but then the boy he idolizes does. He can't contain it. "There hasn't been a single point of more than five shots, that's what I have to change!" he addresses his bench. "Am I going to beat Djokovic the first time? Well, no!" he turns to his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero. He saves the first ball of the set, but in the end he gives in. In any case, Carlitos has that survival instinct that differentiates the best. He doesn't give up, he fights, he invests himself to what he can to connect and he rebels. There is a party. He expresses himself with another of his geniuses, another maneuver to be saved; this one, direct to the Louvre. Is it a bird? Is it an airplane? No, it's Carlitos, the sprinter with two legs like rockets. He emulates the genius Federer – 27 years ago, 2006, against the Argentine David Nalbandian – by retreating to the race and inventing a huge, violent, flat, millimetric reverse.
The partisan anthem sounds, the Bella Ciao that coincides with the reaction. "Let's go machine, get it!" they encourage him. Cag-los, Cag-los, Cag-los!", is pronounced centrally. Finally, he scratches the break, but Djokovic returns it, irreducible; The Serb lifts a 0-40 and then wastes an opportunity for 6-5, a backhand too angled to the corridor. Here comes Carlitos. He is 20 years old, but he already knows a few tricks and puts the stands on his side, haranguing it and straightening up. He seems not to get tired, to the race from here to there. Now, enjoy. It reengages, set equal. And Nole, who had previously requested medical assistance to massage his forearm, damaged by so much putting the racket to repel the cannons, goes to the locker room. He needs to ruminate, look in the mirror. The sleeve has been defined in nuances, but guess a possible avalanche.
On the way back, misfortune soon arrives and with it a semifinal upside down. The script is torn to shreds, there is no common thread and an uncertain scenario. Not even Alcaraz himself knows very well what happens to him, upset by the incident and completely limited. One leg is touched, also the other; one knee, the other; He looks at his box, bewilderment, pain, dislocated face. They treat him in the locker room and he continues, but nothing makes sense anymore and the game is not a game. Still, Nole howls, clenches his fist at every point and celebrates in anger. Be suspicious from start to finish. It rains some whistles but he leaves to applause. He is in his seventh final, just the coup de grace of his twenty-third major and the record of records. The misery of one is the glory to the other.
You can follow EL PAÍS Deportes on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.