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Preview: Carlos Alcaraz vs. Novak Djokovic - prediction, head-to-head, tournament so far

Sports Mole previews Friday's French Open semi-final between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic, including predictions and their head-to-head record.

Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic will go head-to-head in a titanic clash at the semi-final stage of the French Open on Friday.

Djokovic would move one clear of Rafael Nadal onto 23 Grand Slam titles if he can win his third trophy at Roland Garros, while World No. 1 Alcaraz is aiming to back up his credentials after securing his maiden Grand Slam triumph at the US Open last year.

Match preview

Carlos Alcaraz in action at the French Open on June 2, 2023© Reuters

Having long been touted as Nadal's heir apparent, Alcaraz has certainly been living up to that billing in the injury-enforced absence of the 'King of Clay' at this year's French Open, with the 20-year-old only losing one set on his way to setting up a tasty semi-final battle against Djokovic.

Alcaraz lost just 14 games across two dominant victories against Denis Shapovalov and Lorenzo Musetti in the third and fourth round's respectively, but he was expected to face a much tougher test when coming up against No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Tuesday.

After all, Tsitsipas took Djokovic to five sets in the final here two years ago, but the talented Greek simply could not find any avenues when facing his opponent's serve, especially across the opening two sets.

Indeed, Tsitsipas won only 18 points on Alcaraz's serve in the entire match, although he did manage to eventually break him in the third set to force a tie-breaker. However, the Spaniard prevailed to reach the last four of the French Open for the first time in his career.

The World No. 1 will be leaning on his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero more than ever at this moment given that his compatriot won this tournament in 2003, with Ferrero putting any doubts about Alcaraz's thigh injury - which caused him to miss the Australian Open earlier this year - to bed, despite the 20-year-old visibly holding it at times during his victory against Tsitsipas.

Novak Djokovic in action at the French Open on June 2, 2023© Reuters

Djokovic, of course, has had his own muscular issues in recent times, with the 36-year-old sensationally playing through a pre-existing hamstring injury to lift the Australian Open for a record-extending 10th time earlier this year.

He seems to be gradually finding his stride in this tournament, even if he did have to come from behind to defeat Karen Khachanov in the quarter-finals on Tuesday after dropping his first set at this year's French Open against the Russian.

Even on the extremely rare occasions that his body lets him down, Djokovic's mental fortitude can never be in any question whatsoever, with the Serbian saving eight of the 10 break points which he faced against Khachanov. On the flipside, he broke the 27-year-old four times from eight opportunities generated, and ultimately this proved to be the difference between the players across four relatively tight sets.

Having arguably benefitted from a kind draw thus far, the legendary figure may need to find another gear if he is to defeat Alcaraz on Friday, especially on his least favoured surface. He will undoubtedly have half an eye on his opponent's potential injury, and look to wear him down across the course of a potentially gruelling and lengthy encounter.

Indeed, while Alcaraz probably has a little more variety to his game, if there is any player to grind an opponent down, it is surely the only man who has ever managed to defeat 14-time champion Nadal on two separate occasions at this tournament.

Tournament so far

Carlos Alcaraz pictured at the Madrid Open on May 5, 2023© Reuters

Carlos Alcaraz:

First round: vs. Flavio Cobolli 6-0 6-2 7-5
Second round: vs. Taro Daniel 6-1 3-6 6-1 6-2
Third round: vs. Denis Shapovalov 6-1 6-4 6-2
Round of 16: vs. Lorenzo Musetti 6-3 6-2 6-2
Quarter-final: vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2 6-1 7-6

Novak Djokovic:

First round: vs. Aleksandar Kovacevic 6-3 6-2 7-6(1)
Second round: vs. Marton Fucsovics 7-6 6-0 6-3
Third round: vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6 7-6 6-2
Round of 16: vs. Juan Pablo Varillas 6-3 6-2 6-2
Quarter-final: vs. Karen Khachanov 4-6 7-6 6-2 6-4

Head To Head

Novak Djokovic pictured at the Italian Open on May 17, 2023© Reuters

Madrid Masters (2022) - Semi-final: Alcaraz def. Djokovic 6-7 7-5 7-6

Surprisingly, given that they are two of the top three ranked players in the world, Alcaraz and Djokovic have only met once, with the Spaniard coming from behind to defeat Djokovic at the semi-final stage of the Madrid Masters last year.

As such, the 20-year-old will carry plenty of belief and confidence that he can defeat his opponent on clay once again, especially having played the more eye-catching tennis during this tournament.

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We say: Alcaraz to win in five sets

This has all the makings of an absolute classic which could be looked back upon as a defining moment in the history of tennis, as it could represent the changing of the guard to some extent, with Alcaraz - who is widely regarded as the brightest star of the sport's young talents - coming up against one of the greatest players to ever play the game in his twilight years.

However, the Spaniard will almost certainly face plenty of moments of adversity against his legendary opponent, but if he continues to serve to the high level that he has within the past fortnight, we think he may have enough to get over the line and reach only the second of what would surely be many more Grand Slam finals for him.

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Novak Djokovic in action at the French Open on June 2, 2023
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