x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Novak Djokovic only has eyes on the prize

Much is on the line for the quartet of men playing in the semi-finals of the French Open at Roland Garros today.

PARIS // Even Rafael Nadal acknowledges his semi-final against Andy Murray is not nearly as intriguing as the one between unbeaten Novak Djokovic and the 16-time grand-slam champion Roger Federer.

"It's the best player of today against the best player in history. It's going to be a beautiful match," Nadal said. "I would watch it, if I was a spectator."

Much is on the line for the quartet of men playing at Roland Garros today. It is only the 12th time in the Open era, which dates to 1968, that the top four seeded players reached the semi-finals at any major tournament.

The top-seeded Nadal is bidding to equal Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open championships. Murray, the No 4, is dealing with an injured right ankle as he hopes to win his first grand slam title - and give Britain its first male champion at a major tennis tournament since 1936.

Federer, the No 3 seed, has gone more than 16 months without reaching a grand-slam final, the longest such gap since he won Wimbledon in 2003.

Lofty aims, certainly. But nothing compared to what No 2 Djokovic is chasing:

Ÿ The 24-year-old Serb is 41-0 in 2011, and a win over Federer would allow Djokovic to equal John McEnroe's record for best start to a season in the Open era, 42-0 in 1984.

Ÿ Add in two victories for Serbia against France in the Davis Cup final in December, and Djokovic's winning streak stands at 43 overall, three shy of the record mark of 46 in a row set by Guillermo Vilas in 1977.

Ÿ Djokovic is seeking to reach his first final in Paris; if he were to win the title, he would be the first man since Jim Courier in 1992 to win the Australian Open and French Open in the same year.

Ÿ If he beats Federer, Djokovic will be assured of rising to No 1 in the ATP rankings for the first time, no matter what happens in the Nadal-Murray semi-final or in Sunday's championship match.

"To be honest, I'm thinking about this tournament only. I definitely want to go as far as I can in Roland Garros," Djokovic said. "And then, you know, if the No 1 ranking comes this week, I'll be more than happy, definitely. But it's not something I'm thinking about."

He has had plenty of idle time to ruminate: Djokovic hasn't played a match since winning in the fourth round on Sunday. He got a walkover in the quarter-finals when his opponent, Fabio Fognini of Italy, withdrew because of a leg injury.

"I'm sure, for Novak, it will be a little bit strange; five days off in the middle of a grand slam is very rare," Murray said. "He definitely wouldn't have been through it before.

"I know he's played a lot of tennis, but he's got to be switched on from the start against Roger, because he's playing Roger."

Federer was the last player to beat Djokovic, back in November at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, and holds a 13-9 edge in their career series. But Djokovic is 3-0 against Federer this season, all on hard courts.