Major 23 still on the cards as Djokovic reaches French Open semifinals

Serbian is now two wins away from claiming his 23rd Grand Slam title

By Reuters

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Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory on Tuesday. — AFP
Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory on Tuesday. — AFP

Published: Tue 6 Jun 2023, 10:21 PM

Novak Djokovic overcame a first-set blip to beat Russian Karen Khachanov 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 6-4 and reach the French Open semifinals on Tuesday, staying on course for a record-breaking 23rd men's singles Grand Slam title.

The twice Roland Garros champion could not find a weakness in the 11th-seeded Khachanov's serve at first, but once he took the second set tiebreak there was no looking back for the Serbian.

He will be closely watching Tuesday's night match between world number one Carlos Alcaraz and fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose winner will be the last man standing between him and a seventh French Open final.

On a court Philippe Chatrier gradually being covered by the shade, the 36-year-old did not have a single break opportunity and looked a tad slow in the opening set, but his metronomic game eventually clicked and there was little Khachanov could do to top his opponent's march into the last four.

"He was the better player for most of the first two sets, I was struggling to find my rhythm, I came into this a bit sluggish," Djokovic said.

"Then I played a perfect tiebreak and from that moment onwards I played a couple of levels higher, managed to win eight points in a row to finish it off."

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine came into sharp focus again Tuesday as Belarusian Aryna 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 match 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 quarterfinal appearances in Paris.

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 Czech also made the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2021.

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