EVEN Tomas Berdych’s loud shirt was not enough to silence the swashbuckling Ernests Gulbis at the French Open yesterday, with the Latvian skittling out the sixth seed 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the quarter-finals.
Reformed playboy Gulbis, 18th seed on the Paris clay, extended his winning run after downing Swiss master Roger Federer in five sets in the previous round to reach a grand slam semi-final for the first time where he will play his childhood friend Novak Djokovic.
Gulbis proved that his win over 17-times major winner Federer was no fluke. “Forget about the money. Forget about fame. It’s just about my inner comfort. That’s it,” said Gulbis, who is finally beginning to back up the potential he showed in 2008 by reaching the French Open quarter-finals, as he explained his motivation.
Czech Berdych, in his now familiar blue-and-white, flowered shirt, seemed short of shots and ideas to squash the newly focused Gulbis who, at 25, has declared this season his “last train” for success after admitting wasting his talent since his breakthrough in 2007.
Gulbis peppered his play with almost casual-looking winners at times, as well as spirited exchanges with the umpire over contested calls, to set up a meeting with Serbian second seed Djokovic in the last four.
World No 2 Djokovic proved too hot to handle for Canadian outsider Milos Raonic as he qualified for the French Open semi-finals for the sixth time with a clinical 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 victory.
Raonic went close against Djokovic on clay in the Rome Masters semi-finals last month, losing 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, but this time the Serb played better. “It’s never smooth against Milos or any server of his calibre,” said Djokovic. “It was important to get the first set under my belt. Even though it was a straight-sets win, only a few points here and there decided the winner. Against such a player you have to wait for your opportunities and when they’re presented to you, you’d better take them.”
A couple of double faults in the 11th game put Raonic under pressure and Djokovic took full advantage, grabbing the opening set after unsettling his opponent with a dipping backhand.
The Serb then took the second-set tiebreak when his rival missed a backhand.
The Canadian trailed 4-0 in the third set before retrieving one of the two breaks of serve.
Djokovic, however, ended the contest on his first match point when Raonic, the first Canadian male to reach the last eight of a grand slam in the professional era, sent a forehand wide. “It is complicated to play against him because he has a great serve, powerful and accurate, difficult to anticipate,” said Djokovic. “It was important to be mentally strong and consistent.”
Raonic said there was a subtle difference between their meetings in Rome and Paris. “I think where he stood out today compared to Rome was he was playing a lot closer to the baseline. He was not letting me dictate as much,” he explained.