- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

PARIS (AP) | Rafael Nadal’s French Open quarterfinal began more than 1 1/2 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.

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. Hard as it is to believe, Nadal is playing more relentlessly than ever, treating each point - no, each and every stroke - as if 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 1978-81 to win the clay-court major championship 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 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.”

Top-ranked Roger Federer plays his quarterfinal today against No. 24 Fernando Gonzalez, while No. 5 David Ferrer meets the unseeded Gael Monfils.

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