PARIS Rafael Nadal's French Open quarterfinal began more than 1 1/2 hours after Novak Djokovic's did Tuesday. Which is why, after wrapping up a three-set victory, Djokovic figured his coach could head over and check out some of Nadal's match.
So much for a fresh scouting report ahead of Friday's semifinals.
Turns out Nadal was only moments away from winning 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 against Nicolas Almagro, the most lopsided men's quarterfinal at Roland Garros in the 40-year history of the Open era. Almagro's no slouch, by the way: He was seeded 19th and has won more matches on clay than anyone else this season.
"I told my coach I think it was 6-1, 6-1, 5-1 I told him, 'Look! Go! Go fast! See one game! Try to catch at least a game and see how it goes,"' Djokovic said. "'Maybe he'll play some bad shots."'
Not a chance. Hard as it is to believe, Nadal is playing more relentlessly than ever, treating each point no, each and every stroke as though the outcome hangs in the balance.
He's now 26-0 at the French Open for his career, two victories away from becoming the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1978-81 to win the clay-court major championship four consecutive times.
Nadal has dropped a total of 25 games, the fewest ever lost through five full matches by a Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open era.
Djokovic beat 80th-ranked Ernests Gulbis 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-5 to become only the fourth man since 1968 to reach five consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. He also earned the right to face Nadal, who is 113-2 on clay since April 2005.
A berth in Sunday's final and Nadal's No. 2 ranking will be on the line.
The top-ranked Roger Federer plays his quarterfinal Wednesday against No. 24 Fernando Gonzalez, while No. 5 David Ferrer meets the unseeded Gael Monfils.
While Federer's No. 1 ranking is safe no matter what happens this week, Maria Sharapova will relinquish her status as the No. 1 woman. Sharapova, who took over the top spot when Justine Henin retired but lost in the fourth round in Paris, will be replaced by one of the players still in the draw: No. 2 Ana Ivanovic, No. 3 Jelena Jankovic or No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova. Ivanovic and Jankovic meet in the semifinals.