PARIS - Rafael Nadal's French Open quarterfinal began more than 90 minutes after Novak Djokovic's did yesterday. 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 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. Hard as it is to believe, Nadal is playing more relentlessly than ever, treating each point - each and every stroke - as though the outcome hangs in the balance.
He's now 26-0 at the French Open for his career, two victories away from becoming the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1978 to '81 to win the clay-court major four consecutive times.
Nadal has dropped a total of 25 games, the fewest ever lost 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."
He has won only three of 10 matches with Nadal in their brief but rapidly ascendant careers, including exits from the French Open each of the past 2 years. Both are supremely talented, quite young - Nadal turned 22 yesterday; Djokovic turned 21 last month - and bent on stealing some of the prizes that otherwise would be headed for Roger Federer's trophy case.