Rafael Nadal will play Novak Djokovic in a blockbuster semi-final at the French Open after the pair came through their quarter-final ties with relative ease yesterday.
Nadal, the seven-time champion, had struggled through the first week, dropping sets to Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan, but it was a different player who took to Court Philippe Chatrier yesterday and he crushed Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.
The Spaniard had looked in much better nick against Kei Nishikori on Monday and he continued in the same vein, with the warm weather helping his heavily top-spinned shots fizz off the clay.
There was always the feeling it could be one match too many for Wawrinka, who has been struggling with a thigh problem and played for more than four hours in beating Richard Gasquet two days ago.
That was one of the best matches of the season, as was his agonising five-set defeat by Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, but things went wrong from the start yesterday.
Wawrinka’s tactic was to try to get this first strike in, but he was misfiring off his forehand in particular and won only one of the first six games.
When the ninth seed missed a backhand to go set point down on his own serve, he smashed his racket with such ferocity that he almost broke the head clean off.
It did the trick as he nailed a backhand winner down the line to hold on, but Nadal quickly wrapped up the set and then broke again in the third game of the second set. Wawrinka’s radar was working a little better now and he levelled at 3-3 when Nadal pushed a forehand wide but that only fired up the Spaniard even more and he reeled off three games to take the set.
Wawrinka at least denied his opponent a love set by holding for 5-1 in the third, but it was only the briefest of delays for the champion, who can expect a much sterner test from Djokovic.
“Today I played my best match of the tournament. It’s very positive,” a beaming said Nadal.
Asked why he always seems to peak as the Paris final looms, the Mallorcan said: “I don’t control that, nobody does. It was not an easy first week. I played better a bit against (Kei) Nishikori (in the fourth round) and today very well.”
Top seed Novak Djokovic overcame a late wobble to claim his place in the semi-finals with an ultimately convincing defeat of Tommy Haas. The Serbian was outstanding on serve as he powered his way to a 6-3, 7-6, 7-5 quarter-final victory that ended the fairytale run of German veteran Haas on Court Suzanne Lenglen at Roland Garros.
Haas, the 12th seed, produced some defiance in the second and third sets but could only delay Djokovic’s march towards an eagerly-anticipated showdown with Nadal. “Playing Rafa at Roland Garros is the biggest challenge on clay,” he said last night. “I am ready to play five sets.”
Djokovic has now reached the semi-finals in his last 12 major tournaments. The favourite began impressively, powering through his own service games and breaking former world number two Haas twice in quick succession to take the opening set in 30 minutes.
Djokovic showed no let-up in the second set but Haas, knee grazed after diving on court, had no intention of surrendering easily and tried to match his opponent.
He forced a tie-break in which he led 4-2 but Djokovic responded to move two sets ahead. Djokovic broke early in the third and looked to have victory in sight, but Haas surprisingly broke straight back to level at 2-2.
Djokovic showed frustration after a series of deuces with the score at 3-3 but the job looked to be done as he eventually broke again and earned a match point in Haas’s next service game.
But Haas found another gear to not only survive but break back and level the set at 5-5.
Djokovic began to look erratic but Haas could not maintain his new-found momentum and was broken back.
With a second chance to serve for the match Djokovic made no mistake.