PARIS: The belated appearance of the blazing sun at what had been a cold and chilly French Open until yesterday allowed Rafa Nadal to scorch past Andy Murray and set up a hotly-anticipated final with Novak Djokovic.
Murray’s bid to become the first British man in 77 years to reach the Roland Garros showpiece wilted away in a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 pasting by the world number one who now stands just one win away from lifting the Musketeers’ Cup for a ninth time.
To do that he will need to beat his great Serbian rival, who showed Ernests Gulbis that a French Open final is no place for a tennis wild child as he beat the Latvian 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to keep alive his dreams of completing a career grand slam.
While Djokovic spent some of his youth honing his world-beating tennis skills in a drained swimming pool in Belgrade, Gulbis, the son of one of Latvia’s richest men, was busy enjoying the high life.
Djokovic’s two-decade long dedication to his craft was clear for all to see oyesterday as despite struggling with the heat late in the third set, he hung in there to finish off the match in four sets and spare his reddening coach Boris Becker from opening up a second bottle of sunblock.
“I’m glad I won in four sets because if it went to a fifth, God knows in which direction the match could go,” the six-times grand slam champion said after beating his childhood friend.
Gulbis produced some nonchalant dropshots, crafty angles and thunderous backhands but never really threatened to stop Djokovic from setting up a 42nd meeting with Nadal.
Djokovic rattled through the final game to love, sealing the match with a bone-crunching forehand that left Gulbis stirred and shaken following his first foray into a grand slam semi.
“I’m not used to playing these kind of big matches. It’s just normal I felt extra nervous and extra tense ... it was a struggle out there,” said Gulbis. There had been much talk of whether Murray’s new-found confidence after winning two grand slam titles since the last time they met at Roland Garros, in the 2011 semi-finals, would allow him to break Nadal’s 5-0 claycourt hold over him.
But the Spaniard took all of 10 minutes to snuff out those ambitions as he romped to a 3-0 lead and from there on there was an air of doom hanging over the British camp.
Nadal simply did not allow the match to become a real contest on the hottest day of the championships, with the mercury touching 28 degrees Celsius, and a rip-roaring smash ended Murray’s misery.
“That’s the toughest match I have played against him,” Murray said after losing for the 15th time in 20 meetings against the champion.
“He served well and I didn’t return well. He was just battering the next ball into the corner. “It was a bad, bad day.” For Nadal, it was a brilliant day.
The top seed’s Roland Garros win-loss record now stands at 65-1 and only the brave would bet against Nadal becoming the first man to win five successive titles at the home of claycourt tennis when he takes on Djokovic on Sunday. “As a kid it was my dream to play here at Roland Garros, after 10 years of coming here to be playing in my ninth final is unbelievable,” the Spaniard said.