French Open semifinals recap: Sinner wins more points than Alcaraz but loses


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Welcome back to the French Open briefing, where The Athletic will explain the stories behind the stories on each day of the tournament.

On Day 13 of Roland Garros 2024, the men’s semifinals took centre stage.

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It’s not winning the most points, but the points you win

The first men’s French Open semifinal between Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner was a reminder that, in tennis, all points are created equal, but some points are more equal than others.

Sinner won more points than Alcaraz (147-145) on Friday, but lost the match. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence in tennis, even if it can seem counterintuitive.

It’s one of the elements that makes the sport so compelling to watch: Your opponent can have had the better of a match, but you can still be within striking distance of reeling them back in. Take the conclusion of the fourth set, when Sinner, who’d been holding serve easily, moved to 30-0 at 4-5, but lost four points out of nowhere and suddenly had to play a deciding set.

Sinner mentioned the statistical quirk of winning more points but losing the match in the Italian-language portion of his press conference — phlegmatically accepting that Alcaraz had handled the biggest moments better.

Which is one of the most important traits in tennis, and indeed any sport — whatever the scoring system.

It’s not winning the matches, but the matches you win

Wait, there’s more. Tennis, the sport that is so easy to understand, is once more going to give fans a brain teaser.

Alcaraz will now be a fairly significant favorite to win the men’s singles title on Sunday. He may lift a lovely silver trophy, and appear on the covers of newspapers across the world. Though opponent Alexander Zverev may well prevent all that from happening.

And on Monday, Sinner, the player Alcaraz beat to get to the final, will become the men’s world No 1, even though Alcaraz would have three Grand Slam titles to Sinner’s one, and would have a 5-4 edge in their head-to-head.

How does that happen?, you ask.

Well, each tournament awards players a certain amount of ranking points. The world rankings are a reflection of the number of points a player has accumulated over the previous year.

Overall, Sinner would have more of those than Alcaraz, even though Alcaraz would be the winner of two of the past four Grand Slam events.

Got it? Don’t worry, some sportswriters struggle with it, too — and it’s another quirk of the way tennis is organised that makes things so interesting. Players defend the points they earn at tournaments the next time they play, so they have more to lose when they return to a site of success. Suffer an early exit, and it can be much more disastrous than just losing having expected to win.

Jasmine Paolini is doing double(s) duty

Italy was already pretty well represented in the latter stages of this French Open.

Paolini, the No 12 seed, beat Mirra Andreeva on Thursday to face Iga Swiatek in the women’s singles final on Saturday, and then later Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori made it into the men’s doubles final, which will be played that same day.

On Friday, Paolini took that one step further, by qualifying for the women’s doubles final on Sunday, with another Italian, Sara Errani. They’ll take on Coco Gauff, another women’s singles semifinalist, and her Czech partner Katerina Siniakova.

Paolini said Wednesday, when she reached the singles and doubles semifinals, had been a “perfect day”. She’s hoping for two more of them this weekend.

Friday’s singles results

  • Carlos Alcaraz (3) def. Jannik Sinner (2), 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
  • Alexander Zverev (4) def. Casper Ruud (7), 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2

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Saturday’s order of play

  • Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Jasmine Paolini (12), 2pm UK, 9am ET
  • Marcelo Arevalo/Mate Pavic (19) vs. Simone Bolelli Andrea Vavassori (11)

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Tell us what you noticed on the 13th day at Roland Garros as things continue…

(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)



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