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French Open 2014: Semis ahead for Djokovic and Sharapova

Novak Djokovic celebrates his win.
by Leigh Walsh
Wednesday 4 June 2014

Wimbledon.com's highlights as the 2014 French Open at Roland Garros moves into the semi-final stage...

We’ve learned a lot about Ernests Gulbis this week. The Latvian considers his backhand to be one of the best shots on tour; he was named after the great writer Ernest Hemingway; happiness for him lies not in money or fame, but success. Oh, and he enjoys reading the works of Russian novelist Dostoyevsky. 

The biggest discovery, however, hasn’t come during a chatty press conference underneath Court Philippe Chatrier, but on the dusty surface above where Gulbis’ performances have finally begun to match the hype that bubbled seven years ago before gradually fizzing out.

When the son of an extremely wealthy businessman first broke inside the world’s top 50 as a teenager back in 2007 there were many, including Gulbis himself, touting the youngster as a future star. But it wasn’t to be, until now it would seem.

It took until February this year for Gulbis to reach the next ranking landmark, breaking the top 20 after winning the first of his two titles this season in Marseille. Now, after a straight-forward 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over world No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the quarter-final, the 25 year old is projected to rise inside the top 10 next week – as long as Gael Monfils isn’t crowned champion on Sunday.

It seems odd to say Gulbis is a man for the big occasion when before this week he had failed to go beyond the third round at a Slam for six years. But he loves a big stage and a big opponent and he’ll need to be at his swaggering best when he takes on Novak Djokovic in his first ever Grand Slam semi-final on Friday. 

Djokovic marched into the final four – his 14th semi-final appearance in his last 15 majors – with a 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-4 victory over Milos Raonic.

After the win, the Serb said “mental strength and consistency” are the keys to playing a big-server like Raonic and he produced a master class in both, hitting 37 winners and just 19 unforced errors as he nullified the Canadian’s strengths for the second tournament in succession.

Djokovic is now *just* two wins from becoming the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam and despite admitting to “liking my chances”, he is remaining focused on Gulbis who he says is playing “really well”.

The pair, who spent time together at the Pilic Tennis Academy in Germany as juniors, will meet for the sixth time with Djokovic leading their head-to-head 4-1.

On the women’s side Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard both lived up to their respective tags as the game’s toughest competitor and its brightest star.

Sharapova, much like she did against Sam Stosur in the previous round, left it late. After a stuttering start against 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza, who swept aside Serena Williams in the second round, the world No. 7 recovered to win 1-6, 7-5, 6-1.

The Venezuelan-born Spaniard did to Sharapova what the Russian tends to do to most, overpowering and overwhelming the four-time Grand Slam champion with some ferocious hitting from the ground.

At 6-1, 5-4 up, Muguruza was one game away from becoming the first player to beat both Williams and Sharapova at the same event since Elena Dementieva achieved the feat almost five years ago in Toronto.

But, like she so often does, Sharapova found the lines when needed and she came storming back one fist pump at a time. She reeled off the next three games to take the second set and after saving five break points in the fourth game of the third she didn’t look back.

Sharapova has now won 141 of her 184 matches that have gone to a decider and 11 of 14 this year alone. After the win, the world No. 7, who would have dropped outside the top 10 with a loss, reflected on her ability to turn near losses into wins:

“When you just don't feel like anything is going your way, you want to try to find a little door to get into. Once you do – I have been there so many times – it’s much easier. It's always that little part that's the toughest. Once you start feeling, you know, like you got your foot in the door, then it's a little bit easier for yourself.”

Bouchard will be hoping to slam shut any door if the opportunity arises when the pair face off in Thursday’s semi-final. Their two previous meetings came last year in Miami and Roland Garros, both resulting in Sharapova wins.

But one year can make a big difference in the life of a young hopeful. Bouchard is not only one year older and wiser, she can now call herself a two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist after a 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-5 victory over the talented Carla Suarez Navarro.

For much of their quarter-final encounter, which lasted two hours and 22 minutes, Suarez Navarro was the more impressive. The world No. 15 has the technical ingredients to be a French Open champion – great movement, finesse, heavy top spin, an exquisite one-handed backhand and she's clay savvy. But at 4-1 up in the third cracks began to show all over the Spaniard’s smooth game and she let the match slip into Bouchard’s ruthless grasp. In the end, substance won over style 

Sharapova and Bouchard are cut from the same cloth. Both have an insatiable appetite for success and, like each pointed out this week, they’re not here to make friends. When they clash in the semi-final they’ll each have one sole objective – winning. And that's not to be missed. 

THEY SAID

“First quarter-finals of a slam. What can I say? I respect that” – Muguruza remains upbeat despite her loss

“He was always somebody that was very enthusiastic about everything in life, you know, and you could see he wanted to enjoy it with open arms (smiling), if I can say that politically correct” – Djokovic remembers what Gulbis was like as a junior

“For me it's really important for my happiness just to be successful on the tennis court. Forget about the money. Forget about fame. It's just about my inner comfort. That's it” – Gulbis on what makes him happy

“Well, I mean, we're not friends, so there is that. Of course as a child I looked up to her and I remember watching her in the finals of Wimbledon and thought what she was doing was so cool” – Bouchard discusses her relationship with Sharapova

“I'm starting in Queen's, as I did last year, and I'm staying in London all the way till Wimbledon. I experienced it last year and it was pretty good” – Berdych looks ahead to the grass

“I was not showing enough courage on the court. I was a bit nervous. Next time I'll show more courage” – Suarez Navarro reflects on what might have been

“I'm not in a good mood. That's simply it” – Raonic on dealing with losses

“Who is that? Okay. Sorry. I didn't know who she is” – Sharapova responds to a journalist who quotes Judy Murray

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Follow the French Open live on ITV and at rolandgarros.com


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