Friday serves up a spectacular set of semifinals

Regardless of the outcome, no matter the angle – Friday’s men’s semifinals at Roland Garros will be of historic proportions.

By
June 3, 2011 07:07
Rafael Nadal

Nadal 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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PARIS – Regardless of the outcome, no matter the angle – Friday’s men’s semifinals at Roland Garros will be of historic proportions.

With each semifinalist having so much to play for on Court Philippe Chatrier, it is all but impossible to pick one storyline to focus on.

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So significant are Friday’s matches – between Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, and between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer – that they could change forever the way we view the world’s top four players.

That the top four seeds have reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time in five years is hardly even noteworthy considering everything else that is at stake.

For Nadal, the goal is simple, at least in theory. He simply has to do again what he has done so many times already.

After hoisting the Coupe des Mousquetaires in five of the past six years, the world No. 1 can tie Bjorn Borg’s Open era record of six French Open victories with a win on Sunday.

Following a mediocre start to the tournament, the Spaniard reminded us that he should never be doubted at Roland Garros by crushing Robin Soderling (5) in Wednesday’s quarterfinal to book a meeting with Andy Murray (4) in the last four.

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“I am happy about how I arrived to the semifinals, especially after the big victory of today, I think against a difficult opponent,” said Nadal after defeating the only man to have ever gotten the better of him on the Parisian clay. “[There are] no secrets in this sport. Only try your best every day and try to enjoy it, suffering sometimes.”

With five wins in his last seven meetings against Murray and an undefeated record against the Briton in three previous matches on clay, Nadal will be the clear favorite on Friday, without even taking his 43-1 French Open record into account.

However, after taking a set against Nadal on clay the last time they met at Monte Carlo in April, Murray believes he can defeat the Spaniard on Friday for what would be the greatest win of his career.

“I feel I can do it. It’s just, you know, making sure that come Friday, I play my best tennis,” said Murray, who at the Australian Open earlier this year became the first player since Goran Ivanisevic to lose his first three Grand Slam finals. “I have to play a very consistent match, and I have to be mentally strong. Tactically I’m going to have to be very good. So I can definitely win. I just need to play my best.”

Murray once more finds himself within touching distance of becoming the first British man to win a major since Fred Perry at the 1936 US Open, and Nadal has no intention of taking him lightly.

“To play against Andy always is a big challenge,” said Nadal, who is also bidding for his 10th Grand Slam title to move tied into sixth place on the all-time list with Bill Tilden. “He has all the shots. He can defend very well; he can attack very well; he runs fantastic.”

Everyone seems to have an opinion regarding the semi between Djokovic (2) and Federer (3), including Nadal.

“I believe it’s the best player in the world today against the best player in history,” the 25-year-old said.

“I think both of them have chances to be in the final. Djokovic is playing fantastic; Roger did very well during all the tournament. Roger has enough potential to beat everybody, and you know how good [he can be] in the final rounds of a Grand Slam.”

Federer has not gone all the way in any of the past four Grand Slam events since taking the Australian Open last year, his longest winless streak since claiming his first major at Wimbledon in 2003.

In fact, the Swiss master, who is also not one of the top two seeds at a major for the first time since Wimbledon eight years ago, hasn’t even reached a Grand Slam final since Melbourne last January.

His defeat to Soderling in the quarterfinals in Paris last year ended his record run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinal appearances, but a win over Djokovic on Friday, and all of the doubts that he may never win another major will quickly vanish.

“I’m looking forward to the match. I think we always really play well against each other,” said Federer, who is hoping to advance to his fifth Roland Garros final.

After winning four of five matches against Djokovic in 2010, Federer has struggled to come to terms with the Serbian this year, losing all three of their meetings, including in straight sets in the semifinal of the Australian Open.

Djokovic also beat Federer in the semis of the US Open last year, but it remains to be seen how he’ll handle the pressure Friday.

The Serbian perhaps has more on the line than any of the other three semifinalists.

The 24-year-old is not only aiming to reach his first French Open final, but is also looking to improve to 42-0 in 2011 to move tied with John McEnroe for the best-ever start to a year, and perhaps most importantly, ensure he becomes the world No. 1 for the first time in his career regardless of Sunday’s outcome.

“I think there’s less at stake for me than for him,” Federer said of Djokovic, who is also aiming to become the first player since Jim Courier in 1992 to win back-to-back titles at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. “Sure, I’d love to be again in a Grand Slam final because I haven’t achieved that in a few slams.

But he’s got a lot of things going on for him.

“I think the No. 1 situation is the big one right now for him and not so much the streak. But it all goes hand in hand. It’s going to be an interesting day.”

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