The long, leafy main walkway at Roland Garros separated Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as they played simultaneous French Open matches in different stadiums Wednesday.
Now they’ll go head to head.
Both advanced to Friday’s semifinals with victories in straight sets, finishing less than 10 minutes apart. Nadal routed Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, and shortly thereafter Djokovic eliminated 35-year-old Tommy Haas 6-3, 7-6 (5), 7-5.
So much for the preliminaries to set up a much-anticipated rematch of last year’s final, which Nadal won for a record seventh French Open title. He’s bidding to become first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event.
Djokovic, ranked No. 1 and the winner of six Grand Slam titles, seeks the only major championship he has yet to win. With two more victories he would become the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam.
The other semifinal matches Spaniard David Ferrer against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who’s trying to become the first Frenchman in 30 years to win Roland Garros.
Advancing on the women’s side were defending champion Maria Sharapova and two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka, and they’ll meet Thursday. The other semifinal will match No. 1 Serena Williams against 2012 runner-up Sara Errani.
Nadal leads Djokovic 19-15 but lost their most recent meeting in the Monte Carlo final on clay in April. Nadal leads 6-3 in Grand Slam meetings.
Because Nadal’s ranking slipped during a seven-month layoff because of a knee injury, he and Djokovic wound up in the same half of the draw. As a result, they’ll meet before the final at a major event for the first time since 2008.
Both played near their top form in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic wore down Haas, winning 40 of his first 43 service points. Haas found himself on the verge of pulling even at 5-all in the tiebreaker, but Djokovic smacked a backhand winner to end a 24-stroke rally – longest of the match – and won the next point as well for a two-set lead.
Djokovic reached his 12th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. He improved to 33-4 this year.
Nadal, seeded No. 3, turned in his finest performance of the tournament yet. After dropping the first set in each of the first two rounds, he has won 12 sets in a row, looking better and better at Roland Garros, where he now is 57-1.
Nadal improved to 10-0 against Wawrinka and has won all 22 sets they’ve played.
Sharapova needed a comeback unlike any other in her career to reach the semifinals, beatying Jelena Jankovic, 0-6, 6-4, 6-3. It was Sharapova’s first win after losing an opening set 6-0.
The No. 2-seeded Sharapova earned her first French Open title a year ago to complete a career Grand Slam. She has won 12 matches in a row at Roland Garros, where her 42-9 record is the best among active women.
”Obviously it only gets tougher from here,” Sharapova said, ”but I’m really happy I’m at this stage again.”
She’s 5-7 against No. 3 Azarenka, who reached her first Roland Garros semifinal by beating Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (3), 6-2.
The warmest weather of the tournament greeted the last of the quarterfinalists, and Jankovic quickly had Sharapova sweating. In the first set the Russian repeatedly missed the lines by narrow margins or clipped the net cord, and the match was 35 minutes old before she won a game – and only then because Jankovic double-faulted on break point.
Jankovic won 27 points in the first set, 20 on unforced errors by her opponent.
”I still felt like I was in the match,” Sharapova said. ”And I was.”
She then began to find her range while hitting even harder than before, while Jankovic did her best to withstand the barrage. In contrast to Sharapova’s metronomic shrieking, Jankovic went about her business in silence – until she started muttering to herself as her lead disappeared.
”It was a big fight,” Jankovic said. ”It was great tennis out there. We battled.”
Sharapova earned the first break of the final set to take her first lead at 4-3. Toward the end the rallies became longer, and she won the majority, often by hitting shots at improbable angles.
Twice Sharapova yanked lunging backhand returns cross-court for winners. She finished off another point with a forehand struck so violently her necklace flew into her face.
”It was certainly nice to change things around,” Sharapova said, ”because I wasn’t doing much in the first six games.”
When Jankovic’s final shot sailed wide, Sharapova responded with a slack-jawed smile, as though she couldn’t quite believe her comeback. She had dropped a first set 6-0 five other times in her career – and went on to lose each match.