Novak Djokovic may have conquered the greatest challenge he has faced yet in his tennis career, but the prize he wants most is not yet within his grasp. After losing out to Rafael Nadal for the past three years at the French Open, Djokovic ousted the “King of Clay” with an emphatic straight-sets victory in Wednesday’s eagerly anticipated quarterfinal match. But before he can think about getting his hands on the one title missing from him becoming the eighth man in history to win a Career Grand Slam, the Serbian will have to get past another of his long-time rivals, Andy Murray.
Speaking after beating Nadal, Djokovic stressed that he would not dwell on becoming just the second man ever to beat the nine-time French Open champion at Roland Garros.
“You go through more emotions than for any other match,” he said, reports the ATP Tour website. “Playing against Rafa at Roland Garros, it's a special thing. It's a special match. Tomorrow is a new day and I have to move on. It's only the quarter-finals, and I want to fight for the title. That's what I came here for. I have to direct my thoughts to the semis.”
The victory cemented Djokovic’s position as the undisputed world No. 1 and left him on course to win his third Grand Slam title of the last four contested. It also extended his winning streak to 27 matches and left him undefeated on clay in 2015. On Friday, though, he will be coming up against the only other man yet to taste a defeat on clay this year.
Few would have expected that to be the case for Murray entering the semifinals of the French Open. Prior to five weeks ago, the Scot had never won a clay-court title of any description. While he had spent some of his formative years on the surface at an academy in Spain and had reached the French Open semifinals twice previously, he had never produced his best on it and never appeared a serious threat to matching his performances elsewhere.
But that changed with a victory in Munich, which he then followed up the very next week by triumphing in the prestigious Masters 1000 event in Madrid, beating Nadal in the final in straight sets. That form has continued in Paris, where the third seed has stretched his winning run on clay to 15 matches, including impressively knocking off veteran David Ferrer in four sets in the quarterfinals.
“For me in general experience helps on this surface, a lot of players who didn’t grow up on it tend to have better years the more time they spend on it,” he said. “This year I feel like obviously I’ve played much better tennis on the clay, I feel like I understand how I have to play on the surface better than I did in the past and playing much better than I was a couple of years ago.”
In terms of the rivalry between the two 28-year-olds, who were born one week apart and came through the junior ranks together, it is Djokovic who has a clear advantage. Djokovic has won 18 of their 25 meetings and has got the better of Murray in each of their last seven matchups. That run included the final of this year’s Australian Open, when the pair shared the opening two sets before Djokovic cruised to victory. Friday, though, will be the first time they have ever met at the French Open.
Start time: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will be on court following the completion of the first men’s semifinal between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka, which is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. EDT.
TV channel: Tennis Channel until 11 a.m. EDT and then NBC