French Open 2023: Djokovic fights past Khachanov, Sabalenka sees off Svitolina – as it happened

Last modified: 05: 44 PM GMT+0

Karolína Muchová and Aryna Sabalenka beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenko and Elina Svitolina to reach the women’s semis, while Novak Djokovic came from a set down to beat Karen Khachanov

That’s us for the day. Thanks for your company, and please do join me again tomorrow, at 10am BST, for the remainder of the quarters – they’re alright aren’t they? But until then, ta-ra.

Fighting for the last semifinal spots 🫡👀#RolandGarros

— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 6, 2023

So a 23rd and record-breaking major title is still on the agenda for Djokovic and, as it looked nine days ago, Alcaraz looks to be the only man who can prevent that. He plays this evening against Tsitsipas – that should be a lot of fun, but I’d be surprised if he lost – and even he would need to deliver the performance of his life to beat this ludicrous individual.

Djokovic praises Khachanov, who he says was the better player for most of the first two sets. But he played a perfect tiebreak and though he had a little scare in the fourth, he was able to win eight points in a row – of course he counted them – so made it through. In the last eight of a major you don’t get anything handed to you, and complimented by Mats on his hands, he talks about shots he missed, then discusses his plan to try and keep Khachanov – and other big servers who don’t move that well – guessing by trying to be unpredictable with drops, changes of length and such. Jokingly, he chides himself for revealing his tactics, wishes his vanquished opponent success for the rest of the season, then slips into French for the obligatory crowd-praising. He enjoys the feeling he gets on Chatrier, thanks the crowd for their support, and off he pops. He is good at tennis, imvho.

A word for Khachanov, though, who for almost two sets was more than in the match. He’s improved and is improving, refused to take a backwards step, and will be a threat for several years yet.

Novak Djokovic [3] beats Karen Khachanov [11] 3-6 7-6(0) 6-2 6-4!

A tremendous performance from Djokovic, who wore Khachanov’s best, then stomped all over him. That was a really fun match which turned on the second-set breaker, and yerman meets Alcaraz or Tsitsipas in the semis.

Novak Djokovic and Karen Khachanov at the net.
Novak Djokovic is through in four. A masterclass from the Serbian. Photograph: Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty Images


Khachanov is a little late reacting to a drop, netting, then stretches for a serve down the middle and sends his return wide; Djokovic is two points away and, as I type, he cuts out an attempted pass with a gentle backhand volley at the net, raising three match points…

Oh, Karen. Oh, maaaate. A double gives Djokovic 0-15, yet another screeching forehand earns 0-30, and a wrong-footing flick at the next gives him three break points. Naturally, a return of excellent length follows, Khachanov then goes wide, backpeddling, and the bionic man will now serve for the semis. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 5-4 Khachanov

Novak Djokovic gestures to the crowd.
Oh. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP


I’m sorry? At 15-all thanks to a Djokovic double, Khachanov chases down a drop, making Djokovic hit an extra ball, and from mid-court he nets the kind of backhand that other people miss. Khachanov then nets himself, but when Djokovic errs wide, he has a break point after saving one in the previous game. AND A DOUBLE FOLLOWS! Khachanov is back in the fourth at 4-4! Djokovic just can’t handle pressure, I’ve always said it.

Karen Khachanov breaks back in the fourth set!
Karen Khachanov breaks back in the fourth set! Photograph: Caroline Blumberg/EPA


A blistering winner sealed with a kiss 💋

😘 @DjokerNole 😘 #RolandGarros

— Eurosport (@eurosport) June 6, 2023

Djokovic is almost robotic when he plays like this, every ball going where he wants it to. He makes 15-40. the pressure telling on Khachanov – they’ll go down as unforced errors, but after three hours and change against maybe the best ever, nothing really merits that appellation because everything we’re seeing is a product of everything we’ve ever seen. Khachanov, though, doesn’t dwell on his errors, four points in a row securing a match-saving hold. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 4-3 Khachanov

Khachanov hammers away on the forehand to make 15-all, for all the good it does him. Djokovic has served superbly since the first set, a 10th ace giving him 40-15, then another banger out wide effectively sealing another hold. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 4-2 Khachanov

Well done Karen Khachanov! Before the match, he sounded like he really fancied it, and he’s played as well as he can, causing Djokovic issues in the process. He holds for 2-3, and is still in this – just.

Another Djokovic ace means he’s got twice as many, eight, as his big-serving opponent, but at 15-30 Khachanov has a sniff. Not for long, a service winner clipping the line, but then Djokovic totally botches a backhand down the line and out of nowhere, will now face break point. He ups the grunting and this is tense because the match is close to over … but Djokovic isn’t arsed, finding a fantastic angle on a forehand cross-court, breaking the sideline, then clearing up with a brutal finishing shot down the line. His ability to deliver at clutch is just obscene and, as I type that, facing break point, he delivers a high-kicking ace; of course he does … then on game point, sends down a double! He’s such a tease! If Khachanov can’t bring this home I’d not be surprised to see him broken again, but instead he’s leaping and noising up the crowd, forced into a tweener at the end of a chase and turning to see Djokovic net a simple enough putaway volley! You can probably guess what happens next though, a big serve and clean-up forehand, then a big serve out wide and a drop; simple really, and Djokovic leads 3-1 and by 2-1. Khachanov is doing his best and his best is pretty good – it’s just not quite good enough. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 3-1 Khachanov

Again, Djokovic gets to 0-15, then a Khachanov backhand clips the net and drops wide for 0-30. But Djokovic then overcooks a forehand and it feels like a long time since he made an error, Khachanov nets on the backhand and it doesn’t; two break points coming up. And Djokovic only needs one! A forehand into the corner, a sprint to the net, another, and he breaks for 2-1 in the fourth! He is just spectacularly good! Khachanov is a fine player playing his best, and he’s still getting taken apart now – he’s facing Djokovic’s skill multiplied by Djokovic’s consistency, and it’s not surprising that he’s fumbling for answer, because who hasn’t? Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 2-1 Khachanov

Oh my days! Sent into the forehand corner, Djokovic whips a winner flat and cross-court, the angle barely plausible. He’s playing very well indeed – given the circumstances, his third set might be the best of the championships so far – and he holds to love. He looks so fresh out there, the absolute freak of nature, and already I’m thinking about a semi against Alcaraz, no offence Kaz and Stef me old mates. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 1-1 Khachanov

Novak Djokovic
He just keeps going. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters


Khachanov whacks two balls out and immediately cedes 0-30, looking equal parts frustrated and bushed. But he finds a fine forehand, cross-court from centre, then a decent slice-volley at the net gets him 30-all, and from ther, he holds onto his hold right when he looked likely to falter. He leads 1-0 in set four, Djokovic by two sets to one.

Djokovic takes the third set to lead Khachanov 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2!

Djokovic plays a sensational set and I’d be amazed if he didn’t finish this in the fourth. It’s astonishing how good he is, the only phenomenon greater than his stamina at 36 his hairline at 36.

At the end of the first set, Khachanov had dropped four points on his first serve and now it’s 20. Michael Johnson often talks about “speed endurance” and the lack of it is what we’re seeing here: for a set, perhaps two, Khachanov played as well as he can, then Djokovic settled and this is one-way traffic. And as I type, he makes 15-40, playing a cute drop to cement the double break! H’ell now serve for set three! Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 5-2 Khachanov


A gorgeous inside-out backhand lands right in the corner, giving Djokovic 15-0, then when the men meet at the net, Khachanov vacates his spot too soon, offering a big gap that’s readily accepted. Two forehands later, it’s 4-2, the technical term for what we’re seeing “an absolute sonning off”.Djokovic is reading the play superbly now, and also hitting his own shots beautifully. He leads 4-2 in the third.

Now it’s Khachanov with the love hold, the game and 2-3 secured with consecutive aces. But how can he get the break he needs? His forehand isn’t working as well as before, and he’s looking a little weary. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 3-2 Khachanov

This is the thing: lots of players can play really well but very few can play really well for all of a five-set match and even fewer can do so for all of a five-set against Djokovic. He holds to love, clobbering an ace before finishing off with a sensational forehand down the line. He leads 3-1 in the third.

Khachanov must win this game, problem being he’s no longer able to deliver the ball and attack because Djokovic is returning well now. But at 15-30 he finds a gigantic serve and clean-up forehand, then a winner down the line, on the run – his opponent, man of the people that he is, applauds the shot. He does, though, win the next point to force deuce, then Khachanov presses quickly through deuce, racing in to flip a drop back over and across the net for a winner. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 2-1 Khachanov

Karen Khachanov hits a smash winner.
Karen Khachanov wins his first game of the third set. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters


The one-sidedness of the breaker set down a marker for what we’re seeing now, perhaps the greatest player of all time making clear his superiority – the inference that he can turn it up whenever he needs to do, which he can. He consolidates to 15 and now leads 2-0 in the third.

Khachanov nets a forehand for 30-all and these are worrying times. Him beating Djokovic is unlikely; him doing so from behind is unlikeliest. A couple of forehands, though, give him game-point … then Djokovic attacks the second serve, comes in, and puts away a volley for deuce. He’s starting to get the measure of things now, his returning, net-play and dropping almost where they usually are, Khachanov forced to work for everything. And when he slices a forehand down the line well wide, he’s advantage down; this is a colossal part of the match now, a break here feeling like the beginning of the end. He just can’t win consecutive points … but nor can Djokovic, who drops beautifully only to find himself beaten by a big serve-big forehand combo. And shonuff, he’s advantage down and Djokovic pays another drop that clips the tape, so he stops running … only for the ball to somehow clamber over! Djokovic breaks, crossing himself to celebrate his good fortune, and this is running away from Khachanov now. Djokovic 4-6 7-6(0) 1-0 Khachanov


It really is incredible how Djokovic does it – I thought there was a better than decent chance he’d take the breaker though i’d generally favour the bigger server, but to do so to love is a very serious statement. Best of three is it, except after two hours slogging in the heat.

Djokovic levels the match against Khachanov, winning the second set 7-6(0)

We’ve all seen this before. Djokovic has found momentum from somewhere, so Khachanov, though he’s playing well, must now find another level.

Novak Djokovic looks down at his racquet.
Novak Djokovic levels the match. Photograph: Lionel Hahn/Getty Images


Djokovic is a djoke. He lasers a backhand winner down the line for 6-0…

Immediately, Djokovic secures a mini-break after Khachanov takes a volley that he should’ve let bounce, setting up a winner … then a forehand down the line makes 3-0. If he can hold his two serves coming up, it’ll be very close to the set, and this looks not unlike a momentum shift, all the more so when Djokovic holds for 5-0. Balls that were hitting lines are now falling just beyond them.

Khachanov’s nerves must be jangling at 0-15, but he races to 40-15 and looks good for a breaker before a drop-shot winner gives Djokovic a sniff. A forehand then falls fractionally long, taking us to deuce, and the Russian – who, Mac notes, he’s probably seen play 100 times and never better than today – pushes to advantage, before sending down a double. Djokovic has adjusted his receiving position a little, offering the T where his opponent is less comfortable and that, reckons, Mac, prompted the error. But from there, Khachanov serves out, and we’ve got ourselves a breaker! Djokovic 3-6 6-6 Khachanov

Thanks Tom and here we go, Khachanov serving to stay in set two. This could be telling, because breaking here would be classic Djokovic.

Djokovic 4-6, 6-5 Khachanov* (*denotes next server). Djokovic’s service game at least is in its groove now – he holds to love for the second time in a row. And with that, I’ll hand you back to Daniel. Cheers.


Djokovic* 4-6, 5-5 Khachanov (*denotes next server). This is a test of nerve for Khachanov, which he just about passes, after an early underhit forehand return betrays just a hint of them. A lacerating forehand down the line for 30-15 is a good response but a subsequent mistake gives Djokovic a glimmer. But it’s the Serb’s turn to dob one into the net to make it 40-30. Mistakes are everywhere suddenly, as a rare misplaced dropshot brings us to deuce. A strong couple of serves right that wrong though and we’re still on serve.


Djokovic 4-6, 5-4 Khachanov* (*denotes next server). Djokovic is still pulling off some decent shots and serves but just not finding his usual dominance, his usual ability to demoralise an opponent. That said, he produces as controlled a service game as he’s come up with today to hold to love and force Khachanov to serve to stay in the set.


Djokovic* 4-6, 4-4 Khachanov (*denotes next server). Khachanov is showing no real signs of wilting yet and a confident advancing backhand winner kickstarts his service game. He overcooks a back-of-court forehand, mind, for 30-15 but the comeback is emphatic again – he’s dropped only four points on his first serve all match. It’s an easy hold to 15. I think we’re headed for a tiebreaker here.

Karen Khachanov plays a backhand against Novak.
Karen Khachanov plays a backhand against Novak. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images


Djokovic 4-6, 4-3 Khachanov* (*denotes next server). Better serving from Djokovic takes him to 40-15 but he then sends a forehand wide to keep Khachanov in the game. But not for long – that was one of Djokovic’s more convincing holds.


Djokovic* 4-6, 3-3 Khachanov (*denotes next server). Khahanov continues his liberal and admirable use of the dropshot to clinch the first point of his service game when Djokovic is forced to overhit a lob in response, and then another takes him to 30-15. Smart play at the net from both men adorns the next rally that Djokovic wins with a strong backhand volley. But Khachanov’s ace is followed by a brutal rally that looks as if it could last for hours until Djokovic nets. He just can’t get on top. We’re still with serve.


Djokovic 4-6, 3-2 Khachanov* (*denotes next server). Djokovic, serving into the wind, moves to 30-0 courtesy of a booming second serve. Khachanov responds with some demanding returns before Djokovic sends down an unanswerable cross-court ace. A backhand into the net from the favourite then pegs it back to 40-30. Suddenly it’s deuce as Djokovic double-faults for the first time. A more dominant, confident point gives Djokovic the advantage and he goes on to hold.


Djokovic* 4-6, 2-2 Khachanov (*denotes next server). Djokovic, still searching for his first break point of the match, gets a sniff at 15-30 following a gruelling rally that forces an error from Khachanov but the Russian’s formidable serve restores parity in the game. Djojovic then blooters one narrowly out beyond the base line, before Khachanov coughs up his first double fault. Djokovic then has the better of a long-ish rally before another unforced error squanders his advantage and another nerveless drop shot seals the hold.


Djokovic 4-6, 2-1 Khachanov* (*denotes next server). A coaching-manual ace down the middle from Djokovic sets him up nicely for a comfortable hold to 15. A rare, in this match, blemish-free game from the No 3 seed. We’re still with serve in this set so far.


Djokovic* 4-6, 1-1 Khachanov (*denotes next server). More like it from Djokovic as he advances to the net and points Khachanov all round the court for 0-15. The Russian responds with a sumptuous drop shot from the back of the court. And then races to a 40-15 lead and a hold as Djokovic again overhits a forehand.

And since we’ve got John McEnroe on co-comms, here’s some gratuitous auxiliary McEnroe content:


Djokovic 4-6, 1-0 Khachanov* (*denotes next server). It looks a good deal hotter in Paris than it is here in That London, so this is going to be a real test of stamina, but at least the winner will get two days off before the semi. Djokovic eases into a 40-0 lead on his serve before fractionally overcooking a forehand. It’s 40-30 when a wild backhand from the Serb goes way out wide, but a good deep serve seals the hold as some trumpeters in the (by no means packed) crowd start riffing what appears to be the hook from Crazy In Love. For some reason.


Khachanov wins first set against Djokovic 6-4

Djokovic* 4-6 Khachanov (*denotes next server). Thanks Daniel. Khachanov, serving for the set, profits from another wayward Djokovic forehand to go 15-0, and he zips promptly to three more set points. The first is squandered when Khackanov hits long from the back of the court. But not the second, a forceful serve that the favourite can only dollop beyond the wide tramline. We have a match on our hands here. Khachanov has played magnificently so far, Djokovic uncharacteristically sloppy. Can the No 11 seed keep this up?


Hello! A careless forehand from Djokovic thuds into the net and that gives Khachanov 5-3 30-all; pressure. And then Djokovic nets again, so must now face set point … which he just about saves, stepping into a backhand that just about drops into the corner. But just as he looks set to close out, a Khachanov forehand called out turns out to have caught the outside of the baseline, so we replay the point and Djokovic makes a 14th unforced error which returns us to deuce. This is great stuff and, as I type that, the man with hands of stone slides into the net chasing a drop and flicks a riposte across the tape for a touchy-feely winner and a second set point! Again, though, Djokovic, saves it, and it’s hard not to feel like we’ve seen this before, “this” being him hanging onto his serve before breaking. And shonuff he closes out from there, forcing Khachanov to serve for the set at 5-4 – and here’s Tom Davies to croon you through it and the next hour, because I’m off for some scran. Which sounds good, but hungry though I am, this match is not one I’m comfy leaving. Djokovic 4-5 Khachanov

Novak Djokovic walks back to his chair
This wasn’t in the script. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP


At 40-0, Khachanov comes in behind his serve, which is smart – it shouldn’t matter if he loses the point and puts into Djokovic’s mind the possibility that he might do more of that. In the event, he’s passed, but he follows up with an ace for a 5-3 first-set lead.


Khachanov makes 15-30 on the Djokovic serve but as if this is going to be that easy. From there, Djokovic secures his hold, and I’d not be surprised if we see him nail a return or two next game to increase the pressure. 4-3 Khachanov who, we learn, has never beaten a top-10 player at a Slam or on clay.

Khachanov clouts a second serve into Djokovic’s body for 40-0, and though he misses a forehand down the line for a love game – after which we see Henri Leconte, my dad’s favourite player and rightly so, looking bang-on as ever – then closes out for his consolidation. Khachanov leads 4-2 and doesn’t just look good he looks confident.

Karen Khachanov plays a return.
Karen Khachanov goes a break up in the first set. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters


A punishing rally, ball bouncing high above Khachanov’s shoulder – and he’s 6”6 – resolved when Djokovic drills a forehand winner down the line. Then another punishing rally, Khachanov dictating, but obviously Djokovic hangs in there for deuce then retrieves a drop before stretching behind himself to despatch a volley at the net. This is a terrific tussle so far – Khachanov is returning really well – and one allows him to make advantage then another fine return followed by a booming forehand gives him the chance for the overhead putaway … and somehow he snatches at it, unloading the suitcase when all he needed to do was stick int in court, powering just wide of the sideline! How much might he rue that oversight? Well another violent return gives him another advantage, but this time he doesn’t catches it right, sending it soaring long and compounding The Wound of the Missed Gimme, which sounds like a Hardy Boys novel or something. No matter: he makes yet another advantage, opens shoulders, and clobbers a fearsome inside-out forehand cross-court for the break! This match is shaping up! Djokovic 2-3 Khachanov

It’s the hottest it’s been out there, and maybe – bear with me because I’m about to say something ridiculous – Khachanov needs that because he’s the younger man. Problem being his 36-year-old opponent is one of the fittest athletes who’s ever lived. I remember, years ago, hearing someone say that any spare moment – waiting for a cab say – he’s stretching. And then there’s his mental game, also one of the most impregnable we’ve ever seen, but then at 2-2 having held again, Khachanov misses various chances to secure 15-40 before eventually blazing a forehand winner. In comms, Mac notes he’ll like have to win many points several times, not when Djoko sends down a double, he’s a chance for a break…

Novak Djokovic gets ready to serve.
Il fait chaud à Paris. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP


A hold apiece means Djokovic leads 2-1 but this is just early sparring – we’re not yet sure how whoever wins will win, serves currently dictating play. Which is how Khachanov needs it – Mac, now in co-comms, notes that he’ll have to do so better than he ever has before to get a result here.


Khachanov has decent power but the other players, I’m told, do not have massive respect for his hands – though they’ve improved lately. Djokovic holds comfortably enough for 1-0.

And … play, Djokovic to serve.


Earlier, Khachanov told Europsort he was planning to make Djokovic doubt himself; er, good luck with that one, old mate.

Here come our men!

Saba tells Mats she’s got big respect for how Svito has come back and wishes her all the best. Backhands down the line were part of her tactics, but that’s all we’re getting.

Email! “Alas for Svitolina,” begins Amar Breckenridge, “who like husband Gael hits out at our local club in Nyon, Switzerland, the track from Hamilton that applies seems more to be Helpless.

Oh man, and what a tune that is. This pod on it is excellent too, but back to the point, it’s true that she was and not because she didn’t play well, Saba is just different gravy.

Distraction from Brexit* public service announcement: here is a podcast with forensic musicological deconstruction of 'Satisfied' from Hamilton.

— Rafael Behr (@rafaelbehr) June 12, 2019

Coming up next: Novak Djokovic [3] v Karen Khachanov [11].

That was fearsome stuff from Sabalenka, who is the complete player now. She looked so strong throughout that match, power as it’s always been but movement, fitness, shot-selection, composure and timing better than ever. No hoping to win, she expects to win, and her ability to dictate rallies by opening her shoulders makes her a very serious prospect. I’ve seen very few women hit the ball as hard as she does, and I’d be staggered if she doesn’t make the final.

Saba, who meets Muchova next, thanks the crowd, laughing that though they’re waiting for Djokovic, she’s going to assume they’re there for her. She wants to focus on herself so goes for her shots, and when told she looks comfy on clay, says she played on it loads as a kid so doesn’t know where the idea that she’s a hard-court specialist came from. She laughs, but she’s deadly serious – she’s not having people doubting her skill and versatility – and is looking forward to her day off tomorrow, planning to rest up and enjoy the city.

Aryna Sabalenka beats Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-4!

A performance of tremendous competence from Sabalenka, her power and skills way too much for an opponent who properly turned up and gave it all she had. Sabalenka waits at the net but Svitolina only gives her a thumbs up, presumably to say nothing personal, but refuses the customary handshake and embrace because she’s a Ukrainian unwilling to fraternise with a Belarusian given Belarus’ support for Russia.

Elina Svitolina walks straight to her chair, refusing to shake the hand of Sabalenka
Elina Svitolina walks straight to her chair, refusing to shake the hand of Sabalenka. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters


Well, she gets to 0-30 … then Sabalenka absolutely clobbers a forehand winner cross-court, a nasty, kicking serve out wide and clean-up forehand follow. This is terrific stuff from Saba, who’s worn Svitolina’s best and made clear there’s a significant gap between the two. But we wind up at deuce, Sabalenka clipping the net on match point and watching as the ball shoots fractionally over the sideline … but she soon earns advantage…

Svitolina holds for 4-6 4-5, forcing Sabalenka to serve for it while, at change of ends, a band in the crowd strike up Bella Ciao. I’m not sure even El Professor could save her here, but.


The problem Svitolina has is that she’s not really got a way of hurting Sabalenka; she’s reliant on prolonging points in the hope her opponent eventually misses. Well maybe once, but not no more, and as I type that a crushing backhand whizzes down the line for 30-0. Chrissy, speaking in awed tones, worries she’d have had no response to flat power of that ilk, suggesting that perhaps Steffi Graf’s slice, keeping the ball low, might work – but even that would be less effective this year, as the warm weather means a higher bounce. Muchova, though, plays that shot nicely so perhaps she might make something of it, but in the meantime a hold to 15 takes Sabalenka to within a game. Svitolina 4-6 3-5 Sabalenka

Svitolina ploughs through a hold for 4-6 3-4, but it’s hard to see a way for her. It’s incredible how solid Sabalenka looks now, still going for lines with big power but without hinting that she’s a few bad shots away from collapse.

I didn’t expect to be going back to this, but Svitolina could use Laurens, Mulligan and Marquis de Lafayette because she’s ultimately utterly outgunned. Sabalenka holds comfortably for 6-4 4-2, and this feels like five to over.


Oh yes! Sabalenka sends Svitolina charging to hither and yon, but she just doesn’t have at her disposal the power that her opponent does, a booming forehand making 15-30 and a dismissive return, also a forehand, giving her two points for a second consecutive break. But Svito responds well, hitting lines with consecutive serves, before Saba saves game-point with a backhand return that’s too good. So we go back and fourth through deuce and advantage, Sabalenka raising her fourth break point of the game then sealing it with a barrage of terrifying forehands. She leads 6-4 3-2 and looks for all the world like a semi-finalist and potential winner.

Now it’s Sabalenka serving two doubles in a game, giving Svitolina a sniff at deuce. For all the good it does her, Saba unleashing two weapons-grade inside-out forehands, cross-court from corner to corner, to seal her hold for 2-2 in set two.


Making first serves is the key to making Svitolina competitive, and she’s doing a decent job in this set, saving break point when Sabalenka nets. But a colossal backhand down the line opens the angle for a forehand spanked to the opposite corner and this time the break point disappears when she overhits another attempted winner, just. Ach, but a second double fault of the game gives Sabalenka another opportunity to break back, and when Svitolina nets we’re on serve once more. This is what happens when you’re good and you know you are: when you need to step up, you do. Svitolina 4-6 2-1 Sabalenka

Now then. Forced out wide, Svitolina goes cross, then sent back even wide, she smokes a winner down the line for 15-30. So Sabalenka hits a nails second serve then cleans up with a forehand into which she hurls the entirety of herself – that’s confidence, that is – but a double leaves her facing her first break point of the match. And when Svitolina finds decent length on the return, Sabalenka nets a forehand! That’s the break, and this is a really good match. Svitolina 4-6 2-0 Sabalenka

…and she should make it too, coming in only to pick the wrong side and put a backhand straight into Svitolina’s slot, an excellent riposte cross-court making deuce. An ace follows, then a double – Sabalenka is victimising her second serve forcing her to go for more – but she hangs on for a crucial hold. Svitolina 4-6 1-0 Sabalenka

There’s something special about seeing a player or team make a breakthrough that immediately makes them better – France winning the World Cup in 1998 is a good example, as they improved massively and not just because they replaced Stéphane Guivarc’h with Nicolas Anelka. Similarly, Sabalenka plays with so much more authority and confidence now she’s a Grand Slam champ – she’s not lost a set so far in this competition, though Sloane Stephens made her play two tight ones – and she earns a break point in game one of set two…

The new Sabalenka is a fearsome beast, opening the game with an ace, then a service-winner out wide. She does then send a forehand long, but from 30-15 she quickly secures the set and this is Svitolina’s problem: however solidly solid she plays, at some point, class is likely to tell. Svitolina 4-6 Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka celebrates.
Aryna Sabalenka takes the first set. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters


A rasping backhand down the line gives Sabalenka 15-all, but at 15-30 she opens the court with another, only to stray long down the line. Svitolina does seem to be targeting that flank – almost every serve has gone that way along with plenty else – and when she goes again, dropping long, Sabalenka has break point, the first of the match. A second serve again goes to her backhand and she clambers right into it, smoking a winner down the line, and after change of ends she’ll serve for the set. Small margins. Svitolina 4-5 Sabalenka

Ach, Svitolina grooves in for the putaway that’ll give her 0-30 … only to overhit a ball with fewer less pace on it than she expected. From there, the game vanishes, but she’ll be heartened there chances for her even if she failed to take them. 4-4 it is.

Sabalenka isn’t quite hitting her spots yet, and when she misses a second backhand of the game, Gael Monfils, Svitolina’s husband, clenches and shakes his fist. The match is going closer to how she wants it to than how Sbalenka does, and though she has to pass through deuce for her hold, on game point she finds a monstrous flat serve out wide to the backhand, and that gives her 4-3. In co-comms, Chrissy is impressed, and there’s little praise finer than that. Svitolina 4-3 Sabalenka

Elina Svitolina serves in the opening set.
Elina Svitolina serves in the opening set. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters


Another hold apiece, and there’s not much in this so far. I thought Sabalenka would make a dent in the Svitolina serve by nailing a return or two, but so far that’s not been the case and we’re now at 3-3.

Chris Evert is co-comms, which reminds me that she was my first crush to remind you that Gods of Tennis, a sort of sequel to God of Snooker, is on the BBC and she’s involved. So far I’ve only watched Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe, plus a bit of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, but she and Martina have a episode too, and I’m sure it’s great – their friendship, well covered in ESPN’s 30 for 30, is so moving. Anyhow, describing herself, she says “I respond well to pressure” which, frankly, is an incredible thing to be able to to say of yourself. Anyhow, Svitolina holds comfortable for 2-1, then makes 40-30 when Sabalenka serves and Chrissy notes that she’s starting to elongate the rallies, confident she’s got more patience than her opponent. Sabalenka does serve out from there, finding a really nice stretch-volley and raising her arm to the crowd, but this boiling nicely. Svitolina 2-2 Sabalenka

Calvin Betton, our resident coach, notes, that really, the tournament needs Sabalenka to win this as, of those left, she’s the only player with a chance of beating Swiatek. He also says reckons “This is straight-up huge hitter against a ball-chaser, couldn’t be more of the case,” but as I type that Svitolina cracks a backhand to the body as Sabalenka comes in. It gives her 40-30, so Sabalenka thrashes a pair of backhands, coming in again – she mustn’t want to get involved in long rallies, because that’s what her opponent wants – to make it 1-1.

A mahoosive backhand from out wide scorches down the line to give Sabalenka 15-all, and that might just be this match in microcosm: her ability to hit shots beyond the ambit of her opponent. But Svitolina wears it well, holding to 30, and skips to her seat confident she’s in the match.

And away we go, Svitolina to serve.

We can’t ignore the political subtext of this match: Svitolina is Ukrainian and outspoken on the war with Russia; Sabalenka is Belarusian and prefers to stay quiet. Whether it has any impact on the match remains to be seen, but the pressure is all on Saba, who is expected to win; Svito is playing with house money having found equilibrium in her personal life.

Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka.
Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka await the coin toss. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters


Coming up next: Elina Svitolina v Aryna Sabalenka [2].

Oh wow, I’ve just realised this is the first interview I’ve heard without the victor either praising the crowd or being incited to praise the crowd. Perhaps that’s because Chatrier is nauseatingly empty, I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued to know why, if you’ve paid for three matches, you’d not be there to enjoy them.

Muchová has reached her second Slam semi, the first being Australia in 2021. “How important was this first set?” she’s asked; “Very important” comes back the reply, at which point Fabrice realises that perhaps the answer was in the question. So he asks about her beating Sakkari in round one and the confidence she might’ve taken; she says it was funny as they’d played last year too, ands was pleased to win. She’s not sure she’ll watch the next match live, but she’ll definitely watch it, and is understatedly but extremely chuffed.

Karolína Muchová beats Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5 6-2!

Muchová left Roland-Garros on a stretcher last term, forced to retire from her round-three match against Amanda Anisimova. But she’s playing nicely now, and meets either Sabalenka or Svitolina next.

Pavlyuchenkova lands a return on the line, but a kicking second serve forces her to shank the next one wide. Muchova, though, makes 15-all then creams a forehand winner down the line … but then at 3-all another excellent return lands on the baseline, she can’t return it, and Pavlyuchenkova has a point to retrieve a break; Muchova plays it well to force deuce.

Nope, Pavlyuchankova holds easily enough, forcing Muchova to serve for it – which she’ll do following a sit-down and a banana. She leads 7-5 5-2.

This is only Muchova’s 17th main draw of a Slam and she’s playing her fourth quarter-final – an extremely respectable return. She knows she’s going to win this and has stretched her legs with the line in sight, serving out to love; at 7-5 5-1 she’s a game away, and I’d not be shocked if she sealed it with a kiss break.


Yeah, this is over. A careless service-game from Pavlyuchenkova and Muchova breaks to 15 without having to do very much. She leads 7-5 4-1 with two breaks, and it’d take an almighty capitulation or legendary purple patch for her to lose from here.

Is Muchova tightening with the finish line in sight? She delivers a double then shanks a forehand, handing Pavlyuchenkova deuce … before quickly securing her 7-5 3-1 advantage. She’s looked the better player from the start and still does now.

Muchova makes deuce with a terrific backhand drop – her disguise was worthy of Transfer – but Pavlyuchenkova digs deep to serve out from there, sealing the game with an ace and getting onto the board in set two, trailing 5-7 1-2.

Throughout this match, Pavlyuchenkova has looked more comfortable returning than serving and she quickly makes 0-15. But Muchova finds consecutive cross-court forehands, the second from a lovely angle and kicking with top, that breaks the sideline for a winner. From there, she closes out, consolidation sealed when Pavlyuchenkova does all the hard work then runs in for a putaway … and dumps it. Muchova leads 7-5 2-0.

Pavlyuchenlova, of course, reached the final in 2021 – the opportunity of a lifetime really – which she lost to the unheralded Barbora Krejcikova. Women’s tennis being women’s tennis, which is to say the least predictable sport in the world, she’ll hope to force her way back there, but it’s beginning to look like order is being restored with Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek looking a cut above the rest. And, as I type that, a lob drops long and Muchova breaks in the first game of set two; she leads 7-5 1-0.

This time, Muchova serves out authoritatively and to 15; she leads Pavlyuchenkova 7-5.

A succession of unforced errors from Pavlyuchankova hands Muchova 15-40 and dear oh dear, “we won the war but was was it all for” as Alexander Hamilton once rapped. A double fault, and Muchova will shortly serve for the set a second time at 6-5.

We join the action at a crucial time, Pavlyuchenkova having broken back for 5-5 with Muchova serving for the set.


Good morning and welcome to Roland-Garros 2023 – day 9!

After a week and a bit of premier jousting, the real gear gets under way this morning with the start of our quarter-finals, and naturellement there’s plenty to go at plenty at which to go.

We begin with an unseeded battle, Karolina Muchová taking on Anastasia Pavlyuchenko. The former has done nicely out of a fine first-round dismissal of Maria Sakkari, snaffling the number eight seed’s pleasant path through the draw. As the better athlete with the bigger weapons, she’s the favourite to progress, but her opponent has dismissed the more taxing roster, so is also in excellent nick.

Following that we’ve a belter of a match. Elina Svitolina is one of the feel-good stories of the fortnight, having recently returned from injury and maternity to rediscover her best form. But if she’s to progress any further she’ll probably need to play better than she ever has before, because Aryna Sabalenka is no longer the talent who conjures new and exciting ways to lose but a grand slam champion hungry for more and in her absolute prime. She may, of course, be affected by the political furore around her – tired of being asked questions about Belarus’ support of Russia, she’s stopped attending press conferences to protect herself – or it may fire her to greater heights. We shall see.

And finally, we’ll bring you Novak Djokovic’s tussle with Karen Khachanov. On the face of things, it looks a gimme for the goat – I can’t decide whether I just like the alliteration or if I genuinely believe him to be the best ever – but he can sometimes things difficult for himself. Khachanov, meanwhile, has grown into a far more confident player over the last year or so, and is aiming for a third straight major semi. He believes he can do it, and that makes him dangerous.

Donc, on y va!


Daniel Harris (earlier and later) and Tom Davies (for a bit in between)

The GuardianTramp

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