Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

French Open: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal cruise to semi-final showdown

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a backhand during his Men's Singles quarter final match against Tommy Haas of Germany on day eleven of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05: Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a backhand during his Men's Singles quarter final match against Tommy Haas of Germany on day eleven of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The collision of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic here in the semi-finals of the French Open has looked as inevitable as a rush-hour traffic jam on the Périphérique and the two juggernauts duly booked their showdown.

Nadal, the seven-times champion of Roland Garros, and Djokovic, the world No 1, will meet on Friday for the right to face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or David Ferrer in Sunday's final.

There was an appropriate symmetry about the two favourites' quarter-final matches, which finished within five minutes of each other. Nadal was the first into the winners' enclosure, beating Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 after an hour and 56 minutes on Philippe Chatrier Court. Djokovic might have beaten Nadal by a short head if he had not failed to serve out for the match against Tommy Haas when he led 5-4 in the third set on Suzanne Lenglen Court, but the Serb broke back immediately and won 6-3, 7-6, 7-5 after two hours and 13 minutes.

Nadal, who dropped the first set in both his first two matches, has improved along with the quality of his opponents. Wawrinka, who has been one of the year's outstanding players, was on the back foot from the moment he was broken in the opening game. The Swiss, who has never reached a Grand Slam semi-final, briefly threatened when he retrieved an early break in the second set to level at 3-3, but Nadal won the next eight games in a row.

While Nadal has an extraordinary history at Roland Garros – the Spaniard has won 57 of his 58 matches here – Djokovic is building a hugely impressive record of consistency in Grand Slam tournaments. He is through to his 12th successive semi-final, a record bettered only by Roger Federer, whose run of 23 semi-finals in a row ended at Wimbledon three years ago.

Haas had beaten Djokovic in straight sets in their most recent meeting, but the 35-year-old German, who was attempting to become the oldest men's semi-finalist here for 45 years, rarely looked capable of upsetting the odds. His best chance came in the second set tie-break, but from 4-2 up he lost five of the next six points.

The overall head-to-head record between Nadal and Djokovic stands at 19-15 in favour of the Spaniard, but on clay the Serb has won just three times out of 15. Djokovic, nevertheless, won their most recent meeting, when he denied Nadal a ninth successive Monte Carlo title two months ago.

"I need to be at the top of my game throughout the whole match, because that's what it's going to take to win against him," Djokovic said as he looked ahead to the semi-final. "This is the biggest match-up of our Roland Garros 2013 campaign for both me and him. I guess it's the small details and a few points that can decide the winner. That's why I need to be very disciplined and focused in order to get emotionally, physically and mentally ready."

Nadal, who said that in beating Wawrinka he had played his best match of the tournament so far, was similarly cautious. "I know that I will be playing against the best player in the world," he said. "I'll just try to play my way, find my rhythm and play my best match. That's the only way to have a chance.'

Maria Sharapova's grip on her Roland Garros title appeared to be slipping when she lost the first set of her quarter-final to Jelena Jankovic without winning a game. However, the Russian recovered to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-3. "It was just a case of erasing that chapter and moving forward," Sharapova said when describing her nightmare 28-minute opening set.

The world No 2, who had not dropped a set in her previous four matches, will face Victoria Azarenka in today's semi-finals after the Belarusian beat Maria Kirilenko 7-6, 6-2. Serena Williams, the world No 1, meets Italy's Sara Errani, last year's surprise runner-up, in the other semi-final.

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Murray fit for Queen's return

Andy Murray, who pulled out of the French Open because of a recurring back injury, is set to return to competition on grass at the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club next week.

The world No 2 said on Twitter that he would play at Queen's "barring no setbacks in the next couple of days". Murray has been practising this week at Wimbledon, steadily building up his training, and plans to start hitting at Queen's today.

Britain's Dan Evans, the world No 299, recorded one of the best wins of his career when he beat the American Ryan Harrison, ranked No 92, in the Aegon Trophy grass-court tournament in Nottingham.

Evans, who won a clay-court Futures tournament in Sweden last month, won 6-7, 6-0, 7-6. He now meets the Australian-born Brydan Klein, who recently changed his nationality and now competes as a Briton.