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Alcaraz books Djokovic French Open clash as Sabalenka condemns Ukraine war

Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will square off in a blockbuster French Open semi-final, while Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka condemned outright her country’s role in the Ukraine war on Tuesday after reaching the last four at Roland Garros.

Djokovic, chasing a third French Open crown and record 23rd men’s Grand Slam singles title, recovered from dropping his first set of the tournament to defeat 11th seed Karen Khachanov 4-6, 7-6 (7/0), 6-2, 6-4.

The 36-year-old Serb is in his 12th Roland Garros semi-final — his 45th at the majors — and faces Alcaraz for a place in the final after the world number one thrashed 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets.

“That’s the match that a lot of people want to see. It’s definitely the biggest challenge for me so far in the tournament,” said Djokovic, who lost his only meeting with Alcaraz in Madrid last year.

“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. He’s definitely a guy to beat here. I’m looking forward to that.”

Djokovic fell behind for the first time this fortnight against Khachanov but dominated the second-set tie-break and then broke to begin the third set after a favourable bounce off the net.

Djokovic hit 19 winners and just one unforced error in the third set, conceding a solitary point on his serve before breaking the Russian again for good measure.

He briefly let slip a 4-2 lead in the fourth set but immediately broke back and secured a ninth win in 10 tries against Khachanov with an ace on match point.

Alcaraz once more showed why he is the favourite with a convincing 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) victory over Greek fifth seed Tsitsipas in the night session, easily navigating his stiffest challenge to date.

The 20-year-old Spaniard has won all five meetings with Tsitsipas and becomes the youngest Roland Garros semi-finalist since Djokovic in 2007.

Tsitsipas started with a confident hold but Alcaraz soon grabbed control with two breaks to bag the opening set.

Alcaraz’s mix of delicate drop shots and blistering groundstrokes were too much for an overmatched Tsitsipas, who tamely surrendered the second set with a double fault.

The top seed broke early in the third set but failed to serve it out at 5-3 as Tsitsipas offered some belated resistance, saving five match points before ultimately going down in the tie-break.

“I lost my focus a little bit at the end of the third set,” said Alcaraz.

“He started to play better and… I was in trouble. I am happy to recover from that problem and still focus and play a great level.”

Sabalenka speaks out against Lukashenko

The war in Ukraine came into sharp focus again as Sabalenka ended Elina Svitolina’s surprise run in the highest-profile match between two players whose countries are on opposing sides of the conflict.

Sabalenka won a politically-charged encounter 6-4, 6-4 to extend her Grand Slam winning streak to 12 matches following her first major title at the Australian Open in January.

Svitolina was booed by the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier after refusing to shake hands, a common practice now in the sport when a Ukrainian player meets a Russian or Belarusian opponent. 

After boycotting her past two press conferences, Sabalenka insisted she is not a supporter of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a key military ally of Moscow.

“I’m not supporting the war, meaning I don’t support Lukashenko right now,” said the world number two, who has been urged by Ukrainian rivals to use her platform to individually stand up against the war.

“I don’t want my country to be involved in any conflict. I said it many times. You have my position. You have my answer,” she said.

“I don’t want sport to be involved in politics, because I’m just a 25-year-old tennis player.”

Svitolina, playing her first Grand Slam since becoming a mother, has lost all four of her quarter-final appearances in Paris.

She accused Sabalenka of inflaming tensions between Ukrainian and Belarusian players by staring her down at the net.

“I don’t know why she was waiting, because my statements were clear enough about the handshake,” said Svitolina.

Sabalenka has now reached the last four at each of the Grand Slams and will face 43rd-ranked Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic for a place in Saturday’s final.

The unseeded Muchova matched her best run at a major by knocking out 2021 finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-2 to reach the last four at Roland Garros for the first time.

The 26-year-old also made the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2021.

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