PARIS - Novak Djokovic will leave the looking ahead to others. If he's to be believed, the No. 3-ranked Djokovic has more immediate concerns than a possible French Open semifinal against No. 2 Rafael Nadal or final against No. 1 Roger Federer.
First things first at Roland Garros for Djokovic: a quarterfinal against Ernests Gulbis, set up by three-set victories for both men yesterday. Never heard of Gulbis? Djokovic has. He knows the 19-year-old kid from Latvia quite well, in fact.
They go way back, having shared adventures on and off the court a few years ago at coach Niki Pilic's tennis academy in Munich, Germany.
"He was destroying me in practices. I couldn't win a match. Practice? No chance," Djokovic said. Then he added with a wink and a smile, "So all the pressure's on him, OK? He's the favorite."
Sure, Novak. Actually, because their careers have followed completely divergent paths, Djokovic knows full well he must be considered the overwhelming pick in what will be his first professional meeting with Gulbis.
Djokovic - who beat No. 18 Paul-Henri Mathieu, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, yesterday - reached the U.S. Open final in September, then knocked off Federer en route to winning the Australian Open in January. He's reached the semifinals at four consecutive major championships, cementing his status as part of the trio of men head-and-shoulders above the rest.
And Gulbis? He came to Roland Garros with a 7-10 record this season and had never been past the fourth round at a Slam until beating Michael Llodra, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3, yesterday.
Gulbis used all of his 6-foot-3 frame to uncork 11 aces and 18 passing-shot winners against Llodra.
"Very powerful serve," Llodra said.
Like Djokovic, Nadal is rather familiar with his next opponent, No. 19 Nicolas Almagro, and had nothing but nice things to say about him.
"One of the toughest opponents on clay," Nadal said. "Probably going to be my toughest match this week."
The three-time champion reached the quarterfinals by hammering out the most lopsided of his 25 consecutive French Open victories, 6-1, 6-0, 6-2, over No. 22 Fernando Verdasco.
Almagro was a 7-6 (0), 7-6 (7), 7-5 winner over 145th-ranked Jeremy Chardy, a wild-card entry who combined with Mathieu and Llodra to make France 0-3 for the day.
The second set ended with an unusual - and potentially dangerous - sight. Angry that he couldn't get to a ball in time after Almagro's shot clipped the net, Chardy violently spiked his racket. It bounced 10 feet in the air, cleared the net, and landed not far from Almagro.
The Spaniard picked up the racket and handed it to Chardy as they went to the sideline to sit between sets.
As with the men, all four women's matches yesterday were settled in straight sets. No. 2 Ana Ivanovic had the easiest time, putting together a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Petra Cetkovska, and was joined in the quarterfinals by No. 3 Jelena Jankovic, No. 10 Patty Schnyder and qualifier Carla Suarez Navarro.
The players who pulled the tournament's two major upsets lost. Schnyder beat No. 27 Katarina Srebotnik, who eliminated Serena Williams, and Suarez Navarro beat No. 26 Flavia Pennetta, who eliminated Venus Williams.