Stress-free day for Rafa, Djoker
PARIS -- Finally, on Day 11 of the French Open, the Fahrenheit temperature soared into the 70s.
Even that wasn't enough for Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to break a decent sweat. I won't say that their quarterfinal matches were mere formalities -- that would be rude -- but certainly their Wednesday outings were of the stress-free kind.
They started their matches on the two big show courts at roughly the same time and seemed to be racing each other to the finish. Not that it's significant, but Nadal won by eight minutes.
Finally, 35-year-old Tommy Haas ran into a superior force, falling to No. 1-seeded Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (5), 7-5.Nadal, seeded No. 3, continued his uncanny mastery of Stanislas Wawrinka, thrashing him 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 -- his 10th win in as many tries. Wawrinka has failed to win even one of the 24 sets they've played, if playing is the right word.
And so we no longer have to imagine the blockbuster semifinal between Nadal and Djokovic. It will come to pass Friday, along with its supporting matchup, No. 6 Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga versus No. 4 David Ferrer.
"Now I have a big challenge in front of me," Djokovic said, "and I'm ready for it. I know that this is the biggest challenge for me in Roland Garros, no question about it, and I'm sure that it's going to be quite a good match."
Who would have dreamed that Wawrinka, the No. 9 seed, would be the last Swiss player standing at Roland Garros? It hadn't happened in 11 years, when three Swiss outlasted Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2002, but Tsonga's victory over Federer on Tuesday made it so.
Wawrinka and Nadal hadn't met in a Grand Slam for more than six years, going back to the 2007 Australian Open, when Wawrinka won all of six games.
Naturally, Nadal broke Wawrinka's serve in the opening game. Things didn't improve appreciably from there, as Nadal won in less than two hours. Wawrinka's best shot? A crack of the racket late in the unsalvageable first set.
Rafa's first three rounds were uncharacteristically sloppy, but since turning 27 on Monday, he has been pretty buttoned down, winning all six of his sets.
Nadal, for the record, is now 57-1 at Roland Garros, the best record of any player at any Grand Slam. He is seeking his eighth title at Roland Garros; last year's seventh was a French record. If Nadal comes away with the championship, he'll be the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event. That's a big if.
"I know he's going to play well too," Nadal said of Djokovic, "because he's the best today, and I hope to play well here."
Djokovic's match was similarly one-sided.
Three months ago in Miami, Haas became the third-oldest player in the Open era to defeat a No. 1-ranked player, beating Djokovic in the fourth round. But this was a Grand Slam, a venue in which Djokovic has now progressed to 12 consecutive semifinals. If that sounds like a lot, it is. It's the second-longest total on record, behind Federer's 23 and ahead of Rod Laver and Ivan Lendl's 10.
Although Djokovic led their head-to-head history 4-3, it was predictable that Haas would fade in the Parisian heat. The No. 12 seed went five sets against John Isner in third round and had spent two hours on court more than Djokovic, who is nine years younger.
This was a milestone for Djokovic, who won his 100th Grand Slam singles match. Safe to say, running down No. 101 won't be nearly as easy.
A few years ago, Nadal versus Federer was the marquee matchup in tennis. Now that Nadal holds a 20-10 head-to-head edge -- and ruined him last month in the final at Rome -- Rafa-Djokovic is the intriguing clash.
This will be their 35th meeting, with Nadal holding a tenuous 19-15 advantage. The last 11 have been championship finals. On clay, Rafa won their first nine matches, and then things got interesting.
In 2011, when Djokovic won three of the four majors, the dynamic changed. Djokovic won both their clay meetings, in Madrid and Rome, but lost to Federer in the semifinals here. A year ago, Nadal won all three clay matches, including the final at Roland Garros.
This year, Djokovic beat him emphatically 6-2, 7-6 (1) in the Monte Carlo final, which, if recent history holds, would give Djokovic the advantage.
Rafa's not so sure.
"I had big chances in the second set in Monte Carlo," Nadal said. "Only negative thing in Monte Carlo was I didn't win the set. The rest of the things were positive for me. But every match is different history. When I play here, we're going to play here in Roland Garros; we're not in Monte Carlo.
"This court, and the feeling to play this court, is always a little bit different, I will say."
Djokovic, for one, is looking forward to it.
"I'm sure that we know each other's game really well," he said. "We are in good form. This is it. This is the biggest matchup of our Roland Garros 2013 campaign for both me and him.
"I guess it's the small details and few points can decide a winner, and that's why I need to be very disciplined and focused in order to get emotionally, physically and mentally ready for that match."