Novak Djokovic reached his 30th Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open yesterday to move just two wins away from a first Roland Garros title and a career Grand Slam.
The world number one defeated Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych in straight sets 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, claiming a place in an eighth Roland Garros semi-final and sixth in succession.
But the 29-year-old Serb, who will face Austria’s Dominic Thiem for a place in the final, came perilously close to being disqualified in the second game of the third set.
Frustrated at missing a break point, the Serb smashed his racquet into the ground before it flew into the backwall on Philippe Chatrier Court.
Had it hit the nearby line judge, Djokovic would have been disqualified.
Not surprisingly, he offered a speedy apology for his actions to chair umpire Eva Asderaki Moore.
“It’s the quarter-final of a Grand Slam, always a difficult match to play tactically,” said Djokovic, a three-time runner-up in Paris whose quarter-final was played out in a damp chill where temperatures slumped to 12 degrees. “The conditions were difficult but they are the same for all players.”
Djokovic’s win was his 24th in 26 meetings against Berdych and his 11th in a row.
And the Czech was not amused at the weather conditions. “It’s a circus, just one big circus,” he fumed at tournament referee Wayne McKewen, who took the players off for a brief stoppage to allow the rain to pass.
Djokovic was playing for the third day in succession after a washout on Monday and just two hours of action on Tuesday.
If he is to win an elusive French Open title, the top seed will have to play five times in six days.
Murray targets end to 79-year British pain
Andy Murray takes on defending champion Stan Wawrinka today looking to become the first British man to reach the French Open final since 1937.
The world number two is in the habit of shrugging off the weight of expectations with his 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon triumphs.
He is also a five-time Australian Open runner-up but the unique challenges of Paris’s red clay have so far stumped him at the semi-final stage on three occasions.
Today he gets another opportunity to make a first British breakthrough since Bunny Austin reached the final 79 years ago.
“I think at this stage of my career to do things that I have never done before is nice,” said Murray as he contemplated reaching the final of all four Slams. “That’s one of the things that motivates me and drives me. That’s why my results on clay over the last couple of years have been really special to me because I never expected that really, and it had come in the latter stages of my career.”
Murray came into Paris having defeated Djokovic in the final of the Rome Masters but under a cloud following the end of his coaching relationship with Amelie Mauresmo.
His campaign was almost scuppered at the first hurdle when he had to fight back from two sets down to defeat 37-year-old Radek Stepanek.
He then needed another five sets to beat French wildcard Mathias Bourgue, the world 164.
Since then, Murray has been relatively untroubled, seeing off big-servers Ivo Karlovic and John Isner in straight sets before defeating home hope Richard Gasquet from a set down.
Like Murray, Wawrinka also needed five sets to get through his opener against Lukas Rosol, but has dropped just one set since.
However, Wawrinka insists that Murray is the favourite to win today’s clash, even claiming that the Scot is in a different class despite both men having claimed two Grand Slam titles apiece.
“If you were to compare our two careers he’s well ahead of me given all the titles, the finals, number two in the world, and he has so many Masters 1000, as well,” said Wawrinka who was also the 2014 Australian Open champion. “As I keep on repeating, he’s in the ‘Big Four’ [with Djokovic, Federer and Nadal]. Maybe he has fewer titles than the other three, but he’s always been with them during the semis, the finals. His career is very, very impressive.”