Alcaraz v Djokovic: Where the match can be won

 - Simon Cambers

There are many elements that will determine the winner of this much-anticipated clash

Alcaraz - Djokovic (face-à-face)

The most anticipated match of the year will dominate proceedings at Roland-Garros on Friday as world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz meets 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic for a place in the final.

The pair have met just once, in Madrid last year, when Alcaraz edged Djokovic in a tight three-setter. Alcaraz is chasing a first Roland-Garros trophy and a second Slam title overall while Djokovic needs one Slam to overtake Rafael Nadal in the all-time list of men’s winners, with 23.

Here’s a tactical breakdown of the match...

Youth v Experience

Stefanos Tsitsispas summed up this one perfectly. “One has experience and one has legs and moves like Speedy Gonzalez,” he said, after losing in straight sets to Alcaraz in the quarter-finals.

At 36, Djokovic is giving away 16 years to Alcaraz, who also has to be the fastest player around the court. Alcaraz will hunt everything down while Djokovic will try to control the match from the baseline, preferring precision over brute force.

>> READ: 'COMPLETE PLAYER' ALCARAZ POSTING IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS

Experience counts for a lot at this stage of a Slam; this is Djokovic’s 45th semi-final at this level and he’s won Roland-Garros twice, so he knows better than anyone how to manage his game over two weeks and how to cope with nerves.

But Alcaraz is a force of nature, has spent three and a half hours less on court than Djokovic and will present the Serb with a massive test.

Novak Djokovic, quarts de finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Philippe Montigny / FFT

The Alcaraz drop shot

Djokovic knows he’s going to have to cover a lot of ground in this match, especially moving forward to run down the Alcaraz drop shot. The Spaniard’s dropper is as good as anyone’s and he uses it wisely, when his opponent is deep behind the baseline or out of court.

Together with Rafael Nadal, Djokovic is arguably the best at dealing with his opponent’s drop shots but the beauty of the shot is its effect in the long run. Not only does it win points, but when played well it also puts doubt in the opponent’s mind, keeps them off balance and tires them out, which can pay dividends over a five-set battle.

Djokovic also has a good drop shot; expect him to use it a lot, too.

Carlos Alcaraz, 3e tour, Roland-Garros 2023 ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Don’t underestimate the Djokovic serve

Everyone knows about the strength of the Djokovic return, which remains one of the stand-out shots in the men’s game. He doesn’t hit many winners off it, but his depth is so good that the opponent is usually unable to immediately attack. In his five matches to date, he’s only failed once to win more than 50 per cent of points on his opponent’s second serve.

But his serve is still one of the most underestimated parts of his game. He’s won, on average, 73 per cent of points on his first serve and 54 per cent on his second serve, which is the foundation of his game.

How Alcaraz deals with that could be significant.

Novak Djokovic, quarter-final, Roland-Garros 2023© Philippe Montigny/FFT

0-4 shot rallies might be the key

Djokovic won’t overpower Alcaraz but he’ll try to beat him through precision and depth, which in turn will yield short balls to attack. His problem, though, is that Alcaraz has been mightily impressive in the 0-4 shot category, winning, on average, 62.7 per cent of those points played. He’s also dominated the 5-8 and 9+ categories but not by as big a margin.

Djokovic, by contrast, has had the most success, relatively, in the 5-8 category, so he’ll want to extend the rallies, but not by too much, since he’s trailed in the 9+ category in three of his five rounds to date.

Given the warm conditions, the fact that the ball will be flying through the air could also mean the rallies may be a little shorter than usual. If that's the case, it could favour Alcaraz.

Conditions will play a part

As always, conditions will be key to how the two players feel. The match will be played in the heat of the day and with Friday looking like it will be the hottest day of the tournament so far, it will be interesting to see how both men cope.

Of course, it’s not as hot as they experience in Australia or the United States but Djokovic was taking on board a lot of water and using ice in his previous round, and if either man is not feeling 100 per cent, the heat won’t help.

The crowd, too, will come into it. Never afraid to let their feelings show, they can be a factor.