Carlos Alcaraz, the 20-year-old Spanish sensation, will face Novak Djokovic in the French Open semifinals on Friday. The two have played only once, in May 2022, in Madrid. Alcaraz beat Djokovic in their lone meeting, in a deciding-set tiebreaker no less. Djokovic, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, is within 80 feet, and he believes in his heart that everything is about to go his way. Djokovic has been giving the idea that by the time athletes have gained the wisdom and experience necessary to truly crack their sport’s code, their bodies have betrayed them a run for its money.
Approaching his 45th Grand Slam semifinal, Djokovic has become a master of the five-set format, its almost inevitable emotional dips and swings. He seems to spend the first set gathering information about his opponent. If he loses that set, as he did in the last two Wimbledon finals, or even the next one, no big deal. There’s still plenty of time. Alcaraz has so far shown so many of the benefits of youth and so few of the pitfalls. He plays with a kind of limitless joy and freedom that other players struggle to comprehend, in the same way they struggle to handle the velocity of his forehand and his unmatched improvisational shotmaking.
One of the age-old adages about sports in general and tennis in particular is that by the time athletes have gained the wisdom and experience necessary to truly crack their sport’s code, their bodies have betrayed them. Djokovic has been giving this idea a run for its money. That is not accidental. He almost never drinks alcohol. He tries to sleep eight and a half hours a night, with a focus on his prime R.E.M. sleep hours. His postmatch gym and stretching routine sometimes looks as hard as a normal person’s workout. It is also difficult to argue that there is a sounder, more developed brain in tennis.
Keywords: Carlos Alcaraz, Novak Djokovic, French Open, Grand Slam, tennis, semifinals, youth, experience, wisdom, sport’s code, limitless joy, freedom, forehand, improvisational shotmaking, alcohol, sleep, R.E.M. sleep hours, gym, stretching routine, brain.
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