PARIS - Rafael Nadal's French Open quarterfinal began more than 11/2 hours 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.

Nadal, seeded second, was only moments away from beating Nicolas Almagro, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 - the most lopsided men's quarterfinal at Roland Garros Stadium in the 40 years of the Open era. Almagro is no slouch; 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. As hard as it is to believe, Nadal is playing more relentlessly than ever, treating each point as though the outcome hangs in the balance.

He is 26-0 at the French Open for his career, and two victories away from becoming the first man to win the clay-court major championship four consecutive times since Bjorn Borg did it from 1978 to 1981.

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

Djokovic, seeded third, beat 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 third-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."

Both are supremely talented, young - Nadal turned 22 yesterday; Djokovic, 21 last month - and bent on stealing some of the prizes that otherwise would be headed for Roger Federer's trophy case.

The top-ranked Federer plays his quarterfinal today against 24th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez, while fifth-seeded David Ferrer meets Gael Monfils.

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 who lost in the fourth round here, will be replaced by one of the players still in the draw: second-seeded Ana Ivanovic, third-seeded Jelena Jankovic, or fourth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Ivanovic and Jankovic, two Serbs both seeking a first Grand Slam title, will meet in the semifinals tomorrow after straightforward victories. Ivanovic beat 10th-seeded Patty Schnyder, 6-3, 6-2, and Jankovic eliminated qualifier Carla Suarez Navarro by the same score.

Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, finished her suspended fourth-round match by beating 16th-seeded Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 6-3.