Alcaraz: I have never felt as tense as I did today

 - Alex Sharp

The world No.1 suffered across-body cramps during semi-final defeat to Djokovic

Carlos Alcaraz, semi-final, Roland-Garros 2023© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Even Carlos Alcaraz has days when his trademark smile isn't on show.

On Friday, the world No.1 couldn’t hide his disappointment after his Roland-Garros title hopes unravelled during a semi-final clash with Novak Djokovic, who is hunting a men's record-extending 23rd major title.

The pair shared two sets involving some thrilling exchanges before agony struck for Alcaraz.

"I started to cramp in my arm. At the beginning of the third set I started to cramp every part of my body, not only the legs," revealed the 20-year-old, who went down 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 to the Serbian.

"It was really tough for me to move in the third set, and in the fourth let's say I had a little chance, but it was really tough, my full body start to cramp."

The Spaniard had arrived on Court Philippe-Chatrier feeling fresh, and athleticism is one of his key attributes, so breaking down physically cut him deep.

Alcaraz endured three successive five-set rollercoasters en route to the US Open title in September; physicality in majors is no problem for him.

Instead, it was the magnitude of the occasion and what was at stake that got into Alcaraz's head and transferred through his body. He confessed it’s the most stressed he's ever been on court.

"I have never felt something like I did today. I have never felt that tension that I did in that match," the top seed admitted.

"I started the match really nervous. Really good rallies, tough rallies, drop shots, sprints, rallies. It's a combination of a lot of things. But the main thing, it was the tension that I had all the two first sets.

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, demi-finales, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

"Against Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2021 in the US Open, I got cramps, but not this magnitude. I learned from that match, from that experience, and I will do the same in this match."

During his on-court interview, 22-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic painted a positive picture for his dejected opponent.

"I told him at the net, he knows how young he is, he has plenty of time ahead of him. He’s going to win this tournament I’m sure, many, many times," the world No.3 said.

“He’s an unbelievable player, an incredible, incredible competitor, a really nice guy."

It was a match-up that caught the eye of the tennis world as soon as the draw dropped two weeks ago, and a clash that Alcaraz had insisted he wanted. 'To be the best you have to beat the best,' was the sentiment from both players; it was hyped as a generational battle.

It was the first time the pair had met in a Slam, and when it came to the crunch the aura of 22-time major winner Djokovic became a factor in the battle.

"He has been in that situation multiple times, more than me. So I think he has dealt better in these situations than me," added Alcaraz.

"Is not easy to play against Novak. Of course [he's] a legend of our sport. If someone says that he gets into the court with no nerves playing against Novak, he lies.

"Playing a semi-final of a Grand Slam, you have a lot of nerves, but even more with facing Novak.

"That's the truth. Next time that I'm gonna face Novak, I hope to be different, but the nerves will be there."