Despite a tournament that has featured upsets of various sizes, the 2014 French Open still appears set for a collision course between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic with the semifinals on approach.
Djokovic rather easily moved his way through the quarterfinals and will dance with the shocking Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the semifinals on Friday.
Nadal had a much rougher go of it on Day 11 after a lengthy three-hour weather delay pushed back Wednesday's proceedings. After struggling mightily early, Nadal was able to upend No. 5 seed David Ferrer, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1.
Andy Murray emerged from his quarterfinal bout after a roller-coaster battle, and he will look to also spoil the endgame which appears to be another Djokovic-Nadal classic.
Where: Roland Garros, Paris, France
When: Friday, June 6, at 8 a.m. ET
Watch: Tennis Channel (7 a.m. - 11 a.m. ET), NBC (11 a.m. - 2 p.m. ET)
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra/TC Plus
Note: Full schedule available at Roland Garros' official website.
Ernests Gulbis (18) vs. Novak Djokovic (2)
The path, as expected, has been business as usual for Djokovic. He easily dispatched of Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals, 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4.
While noteworthy, the majority of the attention should be on the upset-minded Gulbis, who demolished Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
To what end? A duel between close friends with everything on the line, of course.
Former Wimbledon champ turned coach Pat Cash sets the stage quite well:
Djokovic v Gulbis anyone smell an upset??? will be amazing to watch someone with huge power + nothing to lose v someone who has.— Pat Cash (@TheRealPatCash) June 3, 2014
As dorm-mates who trained together at the Niki Pilic tennis academy in Munich far from their respective homes more than a decade ago, the familiarity and respect between the two runs deep. Djokovic spoke fondly of Gulbis once the slate was cemented, as captured by Christopher Clarey of The New York Times:
So we were good friends. We know each other really well. He was always somebody that was very enthusiastic about everything in life, and you could see he wanted to enjoy it with the open arms, if I can say that politically correct.
While Djokovic holds a 4-1 advantage over his friend, with a brutal 6-0, 6-1 triumph in Indian Wells, California, being the most recent, the Latvian is on a tear unlike seemingly anything the globe has seen from him up to this point in his career.
Armed with nothing to lose in his first Grand Slam semifinal, don't be alarmed if Gulbis can prevail using that mentality, which would fit right in with the rest of a rather wacky tournament.
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Andy Murray (7)
Here they go again.
After Nadal went a grueling four sets and Murray five in the quarterfinals, one of the sport's better rivalries will resume on Friday in the semifinals at Roland Garros.
Murray's five-set triumph was particularly impressive, as 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 final tallies are not so easy to come by. That said, Nadal holds a 14-5 edge over Murray, including 6-2 and 5-0 marks in Grand Slams and on clay courts, respectively.
For Murray, there is an outside chance his sluggish performance was impacted by the negative weather, as he told reporters after his victory, via Mike Henson of BBC:
It was very tough, me and Gael have known each other since we were 11 and I am very good friends with him, so it was very tough conditions to play against him. It was very windy at the start. I started well and when the wind slowed he was very good and very aggressive. In the end I was just glad he started the fifth set badly.
Regardless, one has to give the edge to Nadal, as before a weather-delayed start on Wednesday, he has looked every bit the dominant force, even if his back has been an issue.
It's a matchup that is worthy of the final, but Murray will have to make do and play the spoiler instead. Downing the King of Clay would be quite the accomplishment indeed, and be a suitable exclamation point on a wild tournament.