Djokovic’s focus returns to winning

Winning his second match since hearing of the death of his grandfather 30 hours before, Novak Djokovic moved into the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters by beating Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-2.

The death of Vladimir Djokovic on Thursday was a hard blow for the world No 1 because his grandfather had been his inspiration and biggest supporter. Grieving is difficult for anyone but particularly so when you have to go out on a world stage and perform. Djokovic was quick to point out that he realized he was not the first person in the world to experience bereavement but that he received the news at the "wrong" time.

“Well, of course, I think any time is the wrong time to receive that news,” he said. “Today was a bit better but still a lot of emotional ups and downs throughout the match. But, look, you know, I’m playing tennis. I’m very satisfied that I was able to compose myself and get on the court and try to win matches. I got to the semifinals, which is a big result for me under the circumstances.”

The day before, a completely distracted Djokovic had lost the first set 6-2 to Alexandr Dolgopolov before hitting his way out of trouble. Friday, he was more controlled although he did allow Haase to fight back to 4-4 after trailing 1-4 in the first set.

Djokovic admitted that he had considered pulling out of the tournament when he first heard the news, partially because of his emotional state and partially because, by staying, he would miss the funeral.

“But I’m a professional and life goes on,” he said. “I know I cannot change anything now. It’s a normal circle of life. I was very close to him so it was a big loss to me and my family. But he’s with me in spirit, I know that. I’m remembering only the nicest memories and that’s what gave me strength to play yesterday and today.”

Relieved to talk about something else, Djokovic got onto the subject of the blue clay courts that will await the players at the MutuaMadrid Open in 10 days time.

“I like innovative and creative people,” he said by way of softening the blow. “But to be honest, I’m not really too happy about it. It’s going to be the first blue clay tournament in the world, first time ever in history. As far as I know, most of the top players I talked to, nobody agreed on that. I never played on blue clay. Rafa (Nadal) didn’t. Roger (Federer) didn’t. They asked for my opinion. I said, ‘Until I play on it I cannot give you an opinion.’ Definitely there is a rule within ATP that the (tournament) president is able to make a decision by himself without having the players agree. That rule has to be changed because it is not fair. That’s what has happened. That is why Madrid has blue clay.”

Ion Tiriac, the Romanian impresario and former Davis Cup player who took his event from Stuttgart to Madrid in 2002 and then persuaded the city to build the futuristic Caja Majica which houses three stadiums with sliding roofs, is certainly an innovator. It was his idea to use fashion models as ball girls and Djokovic, allowing himself a smile, admitted that he preferred that idea. The only thing that seems certain at the moment is that everyone, ball girls included, will end up with blue shoes.

As the clouds cleared away to leave this stretch of coast bathed in spring sunshine, Nadal also advanced by beating Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka 7-5,6-4.

Gilles Simon became the first French semifinalist in Monte Carlo since Richard Gasquet in 2005 when he defeated countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the No 4 seed, 7-5, 6-4. Simon will now play Nadal on Saturday while Djokovic will face Tomas Berdych.

Andy Murray, the No 3 seed, had been unable to handle the power-driven ground strokes of Berdych, the sixth-seeded Czech, and went out 6-7, 6-2, 6-3.

Berdych, a former Wimbledon finalist, played better throughout and was a little unlucky to lose the first set, a fact Murray did not dispute.

“I hung in the first set but he had some chances on my serve,” said Murray who, in fact, saved seven break points in that set. “Then in the tie break I got a few lucky bounces. Both of us struggled a bit for rhythm at the end of the set. Quite a lot of dodgy bounces.”

Murray tried to explain the realities of playing a man of the Czech’s power when he is in form. “No matter how much you would have liked to have dictated the points, when someone serves at 137 mph to the line, hits a forehand to the line, you can’t dictate the point. He played very well today and I’m never going to play my best straightaway on clay. It’s quite a slow process. But it was a decent start.”

Murray had coach Ivan Lendl, the Czech-born American on whom Berdych had modeled his game, sitting in the stands. They are off to Barcelona now and will have some long sessions on the practice court in a city where Murray spent some formative years as a teenager. Most places they visit in Europe, Lendl will have been there, done that and won the tournament. Murray insists his coach doesn’t harp on past glories, but Lendl’s record must act as some sort of incentive.