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 a final with 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.
Djokovic knows the 19-year-old from Latvia quite well. They 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 added with a wink and a smile, "So all the pressure's on him, OK? He's the favorite."
Because their careers have followed completely divergent paths, Djokovic knows 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.
"I'm . . . a Grand Slam champion, get a lot of respect and appreciation from the players," said Djokovic, who is 3-7 against Nadal, including losses in the last two French Opens. "It's a different approach. I have more confidence and I believe much more in myself."
Gulbis came to Roland Garros with a 7-10 record this season and never had been past the fourth round at a Slam until beating Michael Llodra, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3, yesterday.
"I played better and better," said the 80th-ranked Gulbis, who eliminated No. 7 American James Blake in the second round.
Gulbis used all of his 6-3 frame to uncork 11 aces and 18 passing shot winners against Llodra.
"Very powerful serve," Llodra said. "You can't see exactly where he's going to serve."
Like Djokovic, Nadal is 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."