Can anyone stop Nadal?
PARIS — The men’s semifinal matchup at the French Open that everyone expected would happen, will happen.
So Novak Djokovic of Serbia — the self-described “No. 3 player of the world” — will have two full days to once again try to unravel the game’s biggest conundrum: how to beat Rafael Nadal of Spain on centre court at Roland Garros.
Not to mention: how to beat Nadal in a best-of-five set match on red clay, which hardly ever happens. The confident Djokovic doesn’t think it’s an impossible task.
“I don’t want to go out there in semis and just try my best,” Djokovic said after a tight threeset win over his friend, Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, a 7-5, 7-6 (4), 7-5 victory that took more than three hours to complete. “I don’t want to do that. I want to win, and I think I have good quality and good chance. I mean, I know, of course, he’s a favourite, and all the credit to that. But only with a positive attitude and approach in the match I can get the positive outcome.”
The match itself was dramatic, if not compelling. Gulbis, 19, and Djokovic, 21, spent their formative years at the same academy in Germany. Their games are similar — right down to their awful volleys. The difference, at this point, is experience.
“If somebody would tell us when we were 12, 13, when we were practising, that we would play [in the French Open] quarter-final, you know, I wouldn’t believe it,” Gulbis said. “He got up to the top faster than me. But I’m still younger, so I think today he won with experience.”
If Djokovic was pushed — and judging by the racket tossing and a first-set win celebration, he was feeling it — Nadal barely broke a sweat, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 over the No. 19 seed, fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, a talented player with two clay-court tournament wins this season.
First question to Almagro: “Que paso?” That’s Spanish for “What happened?”
“Didn’t you see? Well, I think there was a guy named Nadal on the centre court, and he played much better than me all the time — a bit like a flash,” the likable Almagro said. “It’s pretty clear we’ll have a champion for many years here at Roland Garros.”
Nadal concurred, much.
“[Almagro] had never played on the centre court,” he said. “This is a difficult court to play and he was playing me, and this was probably my best match so far in the tournament. So at the end of the day, it was quite logical the result was what it was.”
The all-Serb semifinal on tap for tomorrow on the women’s side seemed less of a given, seeing as No. 2 seed Ana Ivanovic and No. 3 Jelena Jankovic originally had the Williams sisters in their way.
After a sluggish start to the tournament, Ivanovic has been rolling. Yesterday, she handled No. 10 seed Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-2.
Jankovic took care of the biggest surprise in this year’s women’s draw — qualifier Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain — 6-3, 6-2.