Djokovic v Alcaraz, Ruud v Zverev; French Open SF Picks And Pans

by Sean Randall | June 8th, 2023, 6:22 pm

On paper, the fact that Carlos Alcaraz, Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud and Alexander Zverev all made the semifinals of the French Open should surprise no one.

Three of the four made the semifinals last year with only Alcaraz getting picked off by Zverev before the German suffered that gruesome right ankle injury.

Zverev, to his credit, has worked really hard this year to get back into form and, like Ruud, came into Paris with some lackluster results. But this week he’s been back to his consistent self.

Same goes for Ruud who desperately needed a spark and while Estoril wasn’t it, maybe that semifinal in Rome was.

Alcaraz needs absolutely no spark. He is a spark. And Djokovic we knew despite a poor clay run would rise up in the best-of-5 format.

So it’s a really strong final four, one that I didn’t think we’d see based on the flurry of first week upsets.

Daniil Medvedev laid an egg almost as expected. My final pick Jannik Sinner proved he’s got some issues between the ears and others like Andrey Rublev, Cameron Norrie, Felix Auger-Aliassime all fell by the wayside in surprise fashion.

So what’s left? Just three matches and of course the big showdown we all wanted to see: Djokovic v Alcaraz.

On to my picks.

Novak Djokovic v Carlos Alcaraz
They met once in a good one at the Madrid Masters last year, also in the semifinals, and I’m sure that has got Novak’s attention. Alcaraz won that on a fast track at altitude.

This will be slower, but dry, and in best-of-5.

Given the season and recent results, Alcaraz has to be the favorite here. He’s a better player than he was in Madrid last year and I don’t Novak is as sharp.

Alcaraz pounded a very adept clay courter in Stefanos Tsitsipas and ripped the heart out of his buddy Lorenzo Musetti.

He’s faster and hits harder than Djokovic, and he has the momentum. Djokovic might still be ahead in defense, smarts, service return and perhaps serve. All advantages he will need.

Using angles to get Alcaraz moving then hitting to the open court. Djokovic backhand up high to Alcaraz could pay off and of course serving and serving out wide, getting the 20-year-old off the court and on defense early.

Alcaraz can misfire and can get frustrated. He’ll lapse for a spell and in a best-of-5 there’s a better chance of it happening. And when it does, Djokovic has to dig in.

It’s a lot to ask and just six sets from 23 and with either Ruud/Zverev waiting (a virtual win), Djokovic will bring his best stuff.

I just think Alcaraz is too strong right now. Djokovic doesn’t have the raw power of a Sinner to keep Alcaraz off balance with fire-strike tennis. If Alcaraz gets a lot of first serves in, that’s going to spell trouble to Novak who is going to find himself struggling to hold at times and eventually he’s going to get broken.

The weather should be warm and dry which I think helps Novak. But what a match it should be. Finally!
The Pick: Alcaraz in 4

Casper Ruud v Alexander Zverev
I really want to pick Zverev in this one as in general he’s just the better all-around player, head-to-toe. He’s also won two of three from the Norwegian.

I just don’t know if he’s ready to take that next step this early in his comeback. He’s had some good results in Paris beating Frances Tiafoe, Grigor Dimitrov and then Tomas Martin Etcheverry. Good wins all if them but not great clay wins — Etcheverry might get there one day. Ruud would be a great clay win.

That said, Ruud isn’t an elite, future No. 1 type player. He’s still stuck like a Tiafoe, Dimitrov or Etcheverry to winning ATP 250 events and going a few rounds at a Masters. But unlike them, he has shown at the higher levels that he’ll beat the guys he should be beat — he got by a gassed Holger Rune for his first Slam Top 12 win!

Ruud’s got a tomahawk forehand and serve along with an okay backhand and good court sense. The serve-forehand combo will win him a lot of money and a lot of titles, and perhaps even a Slam or two.

Zverev with his 6-foot-6 frame and wingspan is one of the premier defenders on tour. Especially off the backhand wing which is his money shot.

If Zverev can get into backhand-to-backhand rallies and keep that wonky serve in check, he’ll have a serious chance. And if he can hold his nerves, he’ll win. But can he?

That’s where I’m not sold. I know Ruud will show up but Zverev I just don’t know if he can close it out. Is that US Open collapse still rattling around in there? Maybe last year’s ankle turn has cleared the slate — he sure looks good so far.

So while I think Zverev is the better player, I’m picking Ruud here.
The Pick: Ruud in 5

If there was to be a surprise on the day, it would be an easy straight-set win for Djokovic. I could see Alcaraz hammering Novak and the Ruud-Zverev match could have any outcome.

Obviously the winner of the first match will be the big favorite in the final so for Ruud and Zverev perhaps the pressure is off a little, and that might really help the German who could really come full circle after the injury last year and win his first Slam, denying Novak. That’s how Hollywood would write it. But Paris is a long way from California.

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21 Comments for Djokovic v Alcaraz, Ruud v Zverev; French Open SF Picks And Pans

Giles Says:

Vamos Carlos! Take him to the cleaners.

Dave Says:

If Djokovic wins this match it would be one of his top 5 victories of his Career. Arguably the 2 most important things to have on clay are movement and a powerful high topspin forehand. Alcaraz is better in both categories. Djokovic has a better serve and return than Alcaraz. But they are way less important on clay than other surfaces. Alcaraz doesn’t have any weaknesses. Bu5 if I were to choose one it would be his backhand. I’ve definitely seen it breakdown before. People are comparing Alcaraz to Nadal. In the matchup on clay against Djokovic it’s definitely different. There’s one pattern that helps Djokovic against Alcaraz that just doesn’t work the same against Nadal because he’s a leftie. When Djokovic hits a cross court backhand to Nadals forehand, Nadal doesn’t get rushed on his forehand on clay like he does on other surfaces. That same pattern against Alcaraz is going to be backhand to backhand. It’s no coincidence that Alcaraz lost his only set against someone with a fairly good two handed backhand. His domination in the last 3 matches was helped by going against players with 1 handed backhands. It was a matchup issue, which made his domination maybe overhyped a little. I’m surprised no one has been talking a lot about he weather being 31 degrees today. That’s huge for Djokovic. I’m Djokovic has any chance he will need to hit his forehand hard like in Australia this year. People are also making a big deal about the Alcaraz kick serve to the Djokovic backhand in Madrid. That was Madrid. High altitude and higher bounce. It’s different conditions in Roland Garros. I still don’t see Djokovic winning this match today. But if people think it’s going to be a 2020 domination where Djokovic won only 7 games in the final. That’s Nadal. it’s a totally different matchup in totally different conditions. I think Alcaraz will win in 4 or 5 sets. Also, I think one of the reasons Alcaraz doesn’t want to be compared to the Bog 3 is because he thinks he’s better than all of them. And this isn’t in an arrogant way. He’s literally that confident. I stand by what I said before about him. He will go for all of the big records in tennis. The only thing that can stop him is his body getting injured. People thinking Rune is going to challenge him need to look no further than his fitness over 5 sets and his mental weaknesses. He’s got lots of work to do to catch Alcaraz who seems to be improving by the second.

Van Persie Says:

Looks like this will not top 5 from Nole’s greatest or sweetest victories… and Alcaraz is not there yet.
I am sorry for him, as. I expected a great battle.

skeezer Says:

I’d say he is there. He got injured, just like Djoker or anyone else could have. Too bad I expected a great battle also.
All these greats(albeit RF late in his career) have went through some tough injury periods in their career. Let’s just hope this isn’t a regular occurrence in his career. He is too fin to watch.

All out Says:

Well that turned out to be anti climatic. But congrats to nole. His level has been incredible today. He deserves grand slam number 23. Carlos still has some ways to go especially in terms of fitness. But what he has done at the age of 20 is simply phenomenal. If he continues to produce the level he showed in the first two sets, he’ll be the man to beat in the coming years. I think he’ll have a chance to win atleast 2 slams a year in 2-3 year’s time. Hopefully he gets competition that the big 3 had during the last decade and a half.

AlexB Says:

Carlos’ biggest opponent will be his physique. The extra 10lb that he caries around give him power and speed, but they are not free. I expect him to get leaner as he further develops his game.

Wog Boy Says:

Spaniard didn’t get injured, cramping is not a injury, that’s why he couldn’t take MTO, it’s nervousness and pressure of the match and more of the player on the other side of the net.
How many five set matches Spaniard played at USO in hot and humid conditions and won them without cramping, but he didn’t have Nole on the other side of the net?!

Wog Boy Says:

Also, people should stop comparing him with Rafa, Rafa was way better at that age and he had Federer, Andy, Nole and the rest to dill with and who had Alcaraz to dill with while climbing up during Covidmania?!

Dave Says:

I agree with Wog Boy that Alcaraz didn’t get injured. It was very obvious that one of the tactics was to get to Alcaraz’s legs. In the second set Djokovic hit a drop shot that missed into the net. Alcaraz looked like he wasn’t even going to attempt to run it down had it gone over. At the beginning of the 3rd set Djokovic was in lockdown mode and extend the rallies, hitting into both corners and keep making Carlitos running. Djokovic was hitting hard and flat and definitely getting to the legs of Alcaraz. So for me this will still go down as one of Djokovics 10 best wins. He played better than I expected and he really exposed the Alcaraz backhand. It’s elite quite yet.

Dave Says:

It’s not elite quite yet.

Dave Says:

Actually today I did think of Rafa. How much closer the head to head at Roland Garros would have been had Nadal played rightie instead of Leftie. Djokovic not being able to trade backhands cross court with Nadal really makes things more difficult for him and unnatural in a way. Federer and Djokovic had to adapt to Nadal on clay. It was never the other way around. This comment is not to take away from what Nadal has done at the French Open. It just shows how much Nadal being a lefty has given him an advantage even over the 2 other most successful players in the men’s game. And that’s why I think what Nadal has done at the French Open will never be done again. Anyone with an elite 2 handed backhand that is good on clay can have a chance against Alcaraz on Clay. Because they can trade backhands cross court with him so as not to get hurt by his forehand. You do that against Nadal too often and you will see forehand winner after forehand winner fly by. Nadal wouldn’t have won the backhand to backhand cross court battle’s against Djokovic had he been a rightie. And like you saw today, Djokovic hitting his forehand hand hard and flat to the Alcaraz forehand took time away from him to set up that shot. The same would have happened to Nadal. So I just don’t think Djokovic would have been 2-8 again Nadal at Roland Garros. But the reality is that he is. So will never know what their head to head would have been there. But it’s fun to talk about.

Madmax Says:

Well done Novak. Well done.

Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.

Unbelievable job. I wish people would stop booing at tournaments.

Such a gracious man. The cramps, not so good Carlos, but he is a man who is going to overtake novak with the trophies – plenty of time. Over and over again.

Novak, it is your day. Good luck in the final!

Madmax Says:

Come on Novak! Love the French!

He is so proud. So proud.

skeezer Says:

An argument can be made that Djoker’s assault on Alcarez was part of the reason he suffered a “non injury”.
However, for those of us that have actually had cramps playing in a tennis match know that from that point on it’s for the most part essentially over.
It is just too bad that they both could not have stayed healthy on the court after splitting sets. Clearly as “all out” mentioned he still has a ways to go fitness wise. He’s only 20, many many more years to sharpen the iron.

Wog Boy Says:

It’s not his fitness, it’s his style of play that gets him into trouble, how many times has he retired or did WO so far and he is only 20. By his own words he was on the verge of retirement again but was too embarrassed to do it again and that in GS SF!

He is as fit as a fiddle, his game has a lot of trickeries, he has to start to use his brain more than his legs and he will be right, his legs and body do have a limit and it shows…I don’t know about his brain….

Bond Says:

Thanks to you kind words, Novak took Carlos to the cleaners. everyone in the world was predicting Novak will lose. Novak might lose to Rudd. Odds are he will not.

Tennispompom Says:

I watched the match again last night, especially the second set and the melodramatic third. Djokovic was right when he said that they were both close to the edge physically.

Alcaraz said that his hand had started cramping towards the end of the second set, but that he was trying to disguise the fact. When youwatch closely, you can see that he was trying to shake his right hand a few times, and used every opportunity to raise his hand and wave at the crowds – it looked as if he were trying to get the crowds to support him, but the shape of his hand looked odd – I believe those were tha cramps he was referring to later. There were several such episodes in the last 2 games of the 2nd set when you could see that something was wrong with his hand – and yet – to his credit – he managed to win the second set! Courage indeed.

But did any of you watch Djokovic in the second set? He made a superhuman effort to equalise to 5:5, but he was not only on the edge, but probably past it in those last two games of the 2nd set, making uncharacteristic misses, barely standing, I thought it was all over for him and that he might retire. However, Alcaraz’s cramps got there first, in that awful moment when the poor guy just doubled up and froze.

They had both worn each other ragged. Djokovic’s stamina and experience pulled him through, and Alcaraz’s fitness collapse probably gave Djokovic the impetus to carry on and see it through. And that’s how it happened.

Amazing match. The first two sets were packed with such superb shot-making that no one can complain about the drop in quality in the final two sets. The crowds got their money’s worth many times over. Alcaraz showed his ingenuity and courage on court and Djokovic showed his endurance and great sportsmanship. Not many people noticed the fact that when Alcaraz revealed the state he was in, Djokovic was over by his side concerned for his well-being. While Djokovic did his job in beating Alcaraz in those last two sets, he never once smiled after that – the situation was jus as unwelcome to him as it was to Alcaraz.

These two amazing guys need to pace it a bit, I suspect that we all want to continue to watch them as long as possible, and not let them push themselves so hard that they burn out.

In those first two sets, both guys weren’t just burning the candle at both ends. they were using the oxyacetylene torch straight through the middle!!! ATP really should suspend the shot clock – it doesn’t save any time, instead it endangers the players!

Van Persie Says:


I agree with all what you said. The first 2 sets where probably the best sets from this season, if I may say… and yes, I was also stressed, that Nole might lose the match, when he lost dlthe 2nd…and if I remember well, Alcaraz started limbing in the 1st game of the 3rd set already… at 1-1 he was cramping badly and had to stop.

Felt sorry for Alcaraz, but at tje same time I am sure he will learn from all of this.

And of course, was happy that Nole prevailed. 🙂

Tennispompom Says:

Hi Van Persie,
My expectation was that Alcaraz would win, so Djokovic’s performance against a much younger rival, was a pleasant surprise. I thoroughly enjoyed the quality of the first two sets, especially at the second viewing.

What I didn’t expect to see, was a modern version of Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare.

I’m glad that Nole won, hope he wins again tomorrow – we’ll see. And Alcaraz (I hate the diminutive Carlito – so disrespectful!) will grow from this experience and become a total tennis monster. I hope he does – he’s a lot of fun to watch.

zed Says:

Van Persie and Tennispompom, you both provide such excellent analysis, it’s almost as entertaining reading your discussion of the match as it is watching the match :)

Giles, I know you are in pain but you will be OK, your life will go on.

Van Persie Says:

Thank you, Zed. It is a pleasure for me to read you too 🙂

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