After he upset clay court king Rafael Nadal in the final of Monte Carlo, the thought was that just like in 2011 Novak Djokovic was in prime position to end the Spaniards run in Paris. In fact after he battled his way to the French Open final in 2012, he looked like he had a very good shot, too, but a rain break killed his momentum and Nadal ended his dream the next day to snare his seventh title. So what to say now of the world No. 1 after Tomas Berdych scored only his second victory in 15 clashes against the Serbian with 2-6 7-5 6-4 upset in Rome? Down 2-5 in the second set, the powerful and consistent Czech dictated play much of the rest of the afternoon and didn’t allow Djokovic to yank him around as he normally does. Throw in Djokovic’s loss to Grigor Dimitrov last week in Rome and you have a man who is surely the No.2 favorite in Paris, but also a man who has shown a wee bit of vulnerability against some other talented players outside of the Big 4. His time Paris should be very interesting.
“I lost concentration and started to play more defensively,” Djokovic said. “[I played] a bad game at 5-3 and I made some unforced errors. At this level you have to take advantage of the opportunities and I lost this game by myself.”
Berdych will now face Nadal, who once again had his way with David Ferrer in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory. Nadal looked a bit tired after his emotional win over the trash talking Ernests Gulbis in the quarters, but once it got to closing time against Ferrer he was the more competent and heady player.
“I played a great match against a difficult opponent. In the worst moment in the third set, I played my best tennis and I am happy,” said Nadal. “
Nadal has played a ton since his comeback in February, but there is a lot on the table for him in Rome: should he win the title, he would overtake Ferrer at No. 4 and therefore be seeded at least No. 4 at Roland Garros and possibly higher if the injured Andy Murray (back trouble) opts out. Nadal has a 13-3 record over Berdych and has never lost to him on clay, but some of their previous match-ups have been very entertaining, so if the Czech can get on top of the ball and not allow Nadal to force him to go for winners when he is off balance, then he has at least a 20 percent chance of pulling an upset.
The mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire reached his first Masters semifinal with a 6-1 6-win over Marcel Granollers and will face Roger Federer, who did a good job of repelling Jerzy Janowicz 6-4 7-6(2). Paire has a puncher’s chance against the Swiss, but not much more.
On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova withdrew from her quarterfinal with Sara Errani because of a bad cold that returned and induced a fever. Sharapova was told by a doctor to get some rest or her condition could worsen and there is no way she’s going to risk that when she has to defend her Roland Garros title.
“Its one of those things and the body is not ready and with a bigger goal around the corner its important to make the right and smart decisions and I have a lot of clay matches and so this is not lacking before the French Open,” she said.
So Errani now has the pleasure of trying to figure our Victoria Azarenka whom in her first tournament back since Indian Wells was darn impressive later in hitting through Sam Stosur 6-4 1-6 6-3. Azarenka has never been a standout player on dirt and a win over a quality foe on clay such as Stosur has to be a huge mental boost. If she can best Errani and then at least give Serena Williams a tussle should they meet in the final, then she will feel very good entering Roland Garros.
“It’s all a process – I’m just trying to improve day to day, and I feel it’s happening,” Azarenka said. “I will probably never be truly satisfied, but I’m on a good road.”
Williams overwhelmed Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-0 and will face qualifier Simona Halep in the semis, who took down Jelena Jankovic in a long three setter. The 21-year-old Romanian is scrappy and can also belt the ball, but facing Williams after such an exhausting encounter against Jankovic is a tall order.