After finally dethroning nine-time champion Rafael Nadal, the next opponent for Novak Djokovic is a player who like him hasn’t lost on clay all season.
The top-ranked Serb beat Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 Wednesday in Paris, handing the Spaniard the second Roland Garros defeat of his career. Djokovic will play Andy Murray in Friday’s semifinals after the third-seeded Briton beat Spain’s David Ferrer 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1.
“Obviously an ideal scenario is today could have been finals and could have a different discussion,” Djokovic said in a news conference after he beat Nadal for the first time in seven matches in Paris.
Women’s top seed Serena Williams of the U.S. plays Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky in Thursday’s semifinals, while 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia meets Czech Lucie Safarova.
“Right now I’m aware that this is a big win, which I will enjoy tonight,” Djokovic said. “But tomorrow is a new day and I have to move on. It’s only quarterfinals, and I want to fight for the title. That’s what I came here for. I have to kind of direct my thoughts to the semis.”
Although Djokovic has defeated Murray in 18 of their 26 previous matches, the former U.S. Open and Wimbledon winner from Scotland hasn’t lost on clay all season, winning titles in Munich and Madrid, where he beat Nadal.
“Here he’s been playing some really good tennis,” Djokovic said. “He’s moving better, serving very well, and he always had a touch, one of the best groundstrokes in the game.”
Murray, who lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final in January, is ready.
“It’s going to be a tough match,” Murray said in a news conference. “I’m going to have to come up with a good game plan, and try to stick to it throughout, which is something that I feel like I have done pretty well the last couple of months.”
Against Nadal, Djokovic hit 45 winners, while his opponent managed 16. The Serb won 102 points overall, compared with 71 for the Spaniard. Nadal lost his serve seven times and Djokovic dropped serve twice.
“It’s not a big surprise,” Nadal said in a news conference 20 minutes after his defeat. “I didn’t win enough before here. When the opponent plays better than you and is in better shape than you, then (that) can happen. I just congratulate him.”
Nadal, the most successful clay-court player of his generation with 46 titles, entered the tournament he dominated for the past decade without a single victory during the European clay-court season for the first time in his career. He’ll drop to No. 10 next week, and may be ranked even lower if France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reaches the final.
After missing the second part of 2014 with a wrist injury followed by an appendix operation, Nadal has struggled to find the form that has brought him 14 Grand Slam championships. This season, he has lost to players he beat easily in the past and experimented with a new racket before switching back to the old one.
“I have a lot of respect for Rafa, he’s not been playing at his usual level all season,” Djokovic said in a courtside interview. “But he’s still a champion, it’s always a pleasure to play against him.”
Djokovic’s win moves him closer to completing the career grand slam of all four majors. The 28-year-old has won five Australian Open titles, two Wimbledon championships and one U.S. Open trophy. He’s lost twice all season, and extended his current win streak to 27 matches.
Wednesday’s program at Roland Garros predicted the match between Nadal and Djokovic would “make the earth tremble.”
Instead, the crowd watched in stunned silence as Djokovic rattled off the first four games of the match. Nadal fought back and, while serving to stay in the set at 5-4 down, saved three set points. Serving at 6-5 down, he saved two more set points before handing Djokovic the first set after 67 minutes with a drop shot that landed wide.
Djokovic won the final two sets more routinely. The match ended on Nadal’s second double fault, giving Djokovic his first win against the Spaniard at Roland Garros.
“Not happy about my first set, obviously,” Nadal said. “Good fight in the first. Good fight in the second. In the third, I am not happy about the way, but I tried.”