Day 12 Diary: Blanch benefiting from Alcaraz sessions

 - Alex Sharp

The 15-year-old is based at the Juan Carlos Ferrero Academy where the world No.1 trains

Darwin Blanch, boys' singles, quarter-finals, Roland-Garros 2023© Andre Ferreira/FFT

A weekend of title showdowns is on the horizon at Roland-Garros 2023.

Whether it's winning streaks, final revenge or milestone moments, we're at the business end of this year's tournament on the terre battue.

Here's a look at what you may have missed…

In good company

Fifteen-year-old Darwin Blanch continues to turn heads in Paris. The American knocked out junior world No.1 Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez in the first round of the boys' singles and has now battled into the last four.

Darwin, the fourth Blanch sibling to venture into tennis, edged out doubles partner Cooper Williams 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-3 on Thursday.

"It feels unbelievable. To be in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam is unreal. I'm playing really great," Blanch said.

"I knew this level was possible, but I would have doubted it a little if I was told this before the tournament. I'm just so happy."

Darwin Blanch, boys' singles, quarter-final, Roland-Garros 2023© Andre Ferreira/FFT

Blanch is based at Juan Carlos Ferrero's academy in Spain and the 2003 men's champion, currently coach of world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz, has been keeping an eye on his progress.

"He came to watch my last match, had some free time," he said. "He really helps me during the match and it's really inspirational to have such a great player, great coach with you."

In April, the left-hander travelled to Madrid to be the hitting partner for Alcaraz and other top players including Miomir Kecmanovic.

"It was great, just to soak up the experience of seeing all those players close up," the 15-year-old added.

"It obviously helps you to get used to the way he [Alcaraz] hits the ball, it’s really professional. And you can see how he works on and off the court. It helps me to improve myself."

From pastime to potential for Oktiabreva

Prague-based Alisa Oktiabreva shocked No.2 seed Clervie Ngounoue 7-5, 6-1 to book a girls' semi-final ticket.

The 14-year-old, who has now won six matches in a row all the way from qualifying, managed to come back from a 2-5 first-set deficit.

“I was so angry at myself when I was down in the first set. I told myself to just play and enjoy," she told itftennis.com.

Oktiabreva has come a long way from just playing sets with friends.

“I liked it but I wasn’t really wanting to play professionals, I just changed my mind a couple of years ago," she revealed.

"Before, it was just my hobby after school, but last winter I was injured and that’s when I really felt that I couldn’t be without tennis.”

Now enjoying a successful trip to Paris in person, the 14-year-old says she has always tuned in from afar.  

"Clay is my favourite surface and Roland-Garros is my favourite Grand Slam; I was watching it all the time when I was a kid. I love Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. And now Alcaraz is amazing,” she added.

Alisa Oktiabreva, quarter-final, girls' singles, Roland-Garros 2023© Andre Ferreira/FFT

Dual prize at stake in top-two clash

The men's wheelchair final has a double incentive for Alfie Hewett and Tokito Oda.

At this year's Australian Open, three-time champion Hewett defeated the 17-year-old Japanese for his seventh singles major. Now, both players have navigated into another final, and the No.1 ranking is up for grabs as well as the trophy.

"There's gonna be a lot to play for and that's exciting. There's not many times in the year that you get to play for a No.1 spot and also a Grand Slam title in the same match," said Hewett, following a near flawless 6-2, 6-2 victory over Argentina's Gustavo Fernandez.

"He is a great talent and for someone who's so young [17] as well, to be where he is just speaks volumes really. He'll be desperate for some revenge I can imagine."

Can Kamiji dethrone Diede?

The era-defining dominance of Diede de Groot continues as the No.1 seed notched up a 102nd successive win in the women's wheelchair singles.

The Roland-Garros threepeat-chasing Dutchwoman edged Momoko Ohtani 6-3, 6-2 to set up a 2022 final rematch against world No.2 Yui Kamiji.

The top-ranked duo have contested the past four Grand Slams finals, with De Groot's name written on to the Roll of Honour on all four occasions. However, both the US Open and Australian Open finals went the full three-set distance.

"She's so smart. She sees the the opponent work, what am I gonna do? She sees it very well," said the world No.1, in praise of Kamiji.

"So I need to be unpredictable and execute it very well. I think it's going to be another big battle. We played two very tight matches in preparation for Roland-Garros. This one is going to be another one."

There is also a 2022 final repeat in the Quad wheelchair draw between Dutch duo Niels Vink and Sam Schroder.

Reigning champion Vink outclassed Japan's Koji Sugeno 6-4, 6-2, whilst Schroder needed just 48 minutes to defeat American David Wagner 6-0, 6-0. 

Yui Kamiji, semi-final, women's wheelchair singles, Roland-Garros 2023© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT

Giant-killer Muchova

In an impressive deciding set comeback in her semi-final against Aryna Sabalenka, Karolina Muchova reeled in the Australian Open champion from 2-5 down in the third to extend her unbeaten record against top-three players to a stunning 5-0.

Back in 2019 at Wimbledon, Muchova edged out world No.3 Karolina Pliskova 4-6, 7-5, 13-11. At Australian Open 2021, the Czech roared back 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 to dismiss home hope and world No.1 Ash Barty. In the same season, she navigated past No.2 Naomi Osaka 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in Madrid.

Last year at Roland-Garros, the then 25-year-old outmanoeuvred No.3 Maria Sakkari 7-6(5), 7-6(4).

And her win over Sabalenka on Thursday makes it a perfect 5-0 against top-three opposition.

"I didn't know about it," Muchova said with a smile when asked about that particular statistic.

"I think it's maybe my game and the fighting spirit and everything together kind of. Today it was a hell of a fight, and I put everything out there. It paid off. That might be, yeah, that might be why."

Dodig and Krajicek go back-to-back

Last year's runners-up Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek returned to the men's doubles final with a 6-3, 7-6(3) victory over Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos on Court Simonne-Mathieu.

The Croatian-American combination will hope to go one step further in the final when they take on Belgian pairing Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen.