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Djokovic to meet Nadal in semifinals on Friday

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Top-ranked Roger Federer plays his quarterfinal today against No. 24 Fernando Gonzalez.

PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal’s French Open quarterfinal began more than 11‚Ñ2 hours after Novak Djokovic’s did Tuesday. Which is why, after wrapping up a three-set victory, Djokovic figured his coach could head over and check out some of Nadal’s match.

So much for a fresh scouting report ahead of Friday’s semifinals.

Turns out Nadal was only moments away from winning 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 against Nicolas Almagro, the most lopsided men’s quarterfinal at Roland Garros in the 40-year history of the Open era. Almagro’s no slouch, by the way: He was seeded 19th and has won more matches on clay than anyone else this season.

“I told my coach — I think it was 6-1, 6-1, 5-1 — I told him, ‘Look! Go! Go fast! See one game! Try to catch at least a game and see how it goes,”’ Djokovic said. “’Maybe he’ll play some bad shots.”’

Not a chance. Nadal is now 26-0 at the French Open for his career, two victories away from becoming the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1978-81 to win the clay-court major championship four consecutive times.

Nadal has dropped just 25 games, the fewest ever through five full matches by a Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open era.

Djokovic beat 80th-ranked Ernests Gulbis 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-5 to become only the fourth man since 1968 to reach five consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. He also earned the right to face Nadal, who is 113-2 on clay since April 2005.

A berth in Sunday’s final — and Nadal’s No. 2 ranking — will be on the line.

“He’s been playing better and better,” the No. 3-ranked Djokovic said. “But I don’t want to go out there in the semis and just try my best. I don’t want to do that. I want to win.”

The top-ranked Federer plays his quarterfinal Wednesday against No. 24 Fernando Gonzalez, while No. 5 David Ferrer meets the unseeded Gael Monfils.

Nadal beat Federer at the French Open each of the past three years on his way to the title. Djokovic upset Federer at the Australian Open in January en route to his first major championship.

While Federer’s No. 1 ranking is safe no matter what happens this week, Maria Sharapova will relinquish her status as the No. 1 woman. Sharapova, who took over the top spot when Justine Henin retired but lost in the fourth round in Paris, will be replaced by one of the players still in the draw: No. 2 Ana Ivanovic, No. 3 Jelena Jankovic or No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Ivanovic and Jankovic, two Serbs both seeking a first Grand Slam title, will meet in the semifinals Thursday after straightforward victories. Ivanovic beat No. 10 Patty Schnyder 6-3, 6-2, and Jankovic eliminated qualifier Carla Suarez Navarro by the same score.

Schnyder was asked whether Ivanovic — who lost the French Open final to Henin last year, and the Australian Open final to Sharapova in January — is ready to win a major championship.

“She would never be able to win against Justine, but now I think she can. Definitely,” Schnyder said. “I mean, she has the power, and she has the strokes.”

Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, finished off her suspended fourth-round match by beating No. 16 Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-3. Kuznetsova’s opponent today is Kaia Kanepi, the first Estonian to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Today’s other match is No. 7 Elena Dementieva vs. No. 13 Dinara Safina, who ousted Sharapova.