Carlos Alcaraz beats Jannik Sinner to reach French Open final

Carlos Alcaraz beat Jannik Sinner in a jittery, seesawing, French Open semi-final on Friday evening in Paris.

The world No. 3 beat the incoming world No. 1 in five sets — 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 — on Court Philippe-Chatrier, to reach his first French Open final, where he will play either fourth seed Alexander Zverev or seventh seed Casper Ruud.

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Despite their ongoing rivalry as the future of men’s tennis now emerging into the present, both players were looking to reach their first final at Roland Garros, and the match never fully ignited on both sides simultaneously, perhaps as a result of the sense of occasion.

In the first two sets, the two players’ different serve styles and skills were the story. To open, Sinner’s ability to hit spots with more precision than Alcaraz and high risk approach to his first serve paid off. His first serve percentage was low, just 60 per cent, but he won 85 per cent behind it. Alcaraz, by contrast, made a very strong 81 percent, but only won 44 percent of the points — the percentage was high because so many serves were too safely in the box and allowed Sinner to tee off, highlighting the relationship between risk and reward. In the second set, Alcaraz’s percentage got lower, as he tried to be more precise, while Sinner’s fell even lower too: not for going for more this time, but just from having a wobble.

Jannik Sinner twice went a set ahead but was unable to see out victory. (Mateo Villalba / Getty Images)

In the middle part of the match, both players went through the wringer. Sinner struggled with cramps and looked out of the third set; Alcaraz fell a little too far back into the passivity of the first set. He struggled to impose himself, having won the second by creating a backhand-to-backhand pattern until Sinner erred enough for him to swing his forehand into the corner with shape and devastating speed. In the fourth, a stunning lob and a missed smash were the difference in one game, at 4-5, Sinner missing a regulation shot and paying the heaviest price.

In the fifth, Alcaraz imposed himself as Sinner looked tired. The full variety came out — the forehand revved, the drop shots worked (most of the time) and he dragged Sinner into lengthy crosscourt rallies that he simply couldn’t stand. Come the end, Alcaraz hit four serves, one of them a second, with unbelievable precision and speed into Sinner’s forehand, practically dragging him into the Bois de Boulogne. It was what Sinner had done to him in the first set, when he was 0-4 down and looked lost and aghast. Oscillating, mirroring, seesawing; not always the highest quality, not always the right choices. But that is the beauty of youth, and tennis has the next decade to see these two players mature.

The second youngest Roland-Garros men’s singles finalist since 2000, only behind Rafael Nadal. pic.twitter.com/8WXXxUaBZB — Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2024

‘Alcaraz edge comes from variety’

Analysis from Charlie Eccleshare in Paris

This was another contest to underline how closely matched these two are.

Both have phenomenal power and accuracy, and are almost without weaknesses.

Where Alcaraz has the edge, and he showed this again on Friday, is in the variety he possesses. It’s often the drop shot that gets talked about in this regard, but in this latest match-up it was the lob that proved crucial.

Alcaraz hit a number of these throughout the match, and with almost unbelievable effectiveness considering the size of his opponent, but there were a few which proved particularly decisive.

Carlos Alcaraz prevailed in a five-set thriller. (Mateo Villalba / Getty Images)

At the end of the fourth set, Sinner was serving down 4-5 but up 30-0 and seemingly cruising. Neither player had faced a break point in the set and a tiebreak felt almost inevitable. But then Alcaraz produced an inch-perfect lob to give himself a sniff at 30-15. On the next point, he hoisted a very different, much more hopeful lob on the backhand side, which wasn’t pretty but it kept him in the point. Sinner missed the regulation-looking smash, complicated by the sun, and suddenly it was 30-30. Two points later, Alcaraz had ambushed his opponent to win the set out of nowhere.

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In Sinner’s next service game, his first of the final set, Alcaraz produced another fine lob to again reel his opponent in, this time for 30-30. Another break duly followed, and Alcaraz was on his way.

The lob didn’t always work, with Alcaraz dropping a few short, but it kept Sinner guessing when he was lured to the net by his opponent’s drop shots. The fun thing about this rivalry is the way each pushes the other to greater heights, and on Friday that wasn’t so much in the classic way of raising levels by degrees, but instead in the way each forced the other to guess and think a little more than they might have wanted to.

Long may it continue.

(Dan Istitene / Getty Images)

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