Six-time Grand Slam title winner Novak Djokovic and big-hitting, free-thinking giantkiller Ernests Gulbis will clash for a French Open final place after they completed straight-sets quarter-final triumphs on Tuesday.
World number two Djokovic, who needs a Roland Garros title to become only the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam, tamed big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic 7-5, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 to reach his sixth semi-final in Paris.
“It was very complicated against his serve which is so precise and powerful but I’m really happy,” said the Serb.
“It was difficult to return and important for me to keep concentration but I’m delighted to be in the semi-finals.”
The 27-year-old made it three wins out of three against eighth-seeded Raonic, following Rome in May and a Davis Cup semi-final in 2013.
He will now tackle Gulbis who put out Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to back-up his shock defeat of Roger Federer in the fourth round.
(Ernests) Gulbis is a very good player, he beat Roger (Federer) and now (Tomas) Berdych in three sets which is really impressive. He’s playing his best tennis so it’s going to be an important match for me,” added Djokovic.
Gulbis, the 25-year-old, 18th-seeded Latvian who is better known for his colourful behaviour and outspoken comments off the court than his achievements on it, stormed into his first semi-final at a major.
Tuesday’s win over Berdych made Gulbis the second most successful match winner of 2013 — he now has 32 wins with just Rafael Nadal ahead of him on 38.
“This is very special, I am very happy to share it with you,” said Gulbis.
“It was my best match of the tournament so far. Everything worked. Tomas was getting angry because I was hitting the lines all the time but, sorry, that’s part of the sport.”
Gulbis has a 1-4 record against Djokovic with whom he once trained when they were youngsters in Munch.
Their first meeting was in the French Open quarter-finals in 2008 when Djokovic won in straight sets, the pair’s only previous clash on clay.
Berdych admitted he had played probably his worst match of the two weeks in Paris on Tuesday.
“He was solid today, he didn’t have to bring anything special. I was not in the shape to cause him any damage,” said Berdych.
“The way I was playing there was no way I could win. It was pretty bad. It was my fifth match in two weeks. You need to be ready for the whole two weeks and if you have the kind of day I had today you have no chance to get a good result.”
Gulbis went into Tuesday’s meeting with the 2010 semi-finalist trailing the Czech 4-2 in career matches.
But he had already defeated Berdych in straight sets in the first round at Wimbledon two years ago.
As he had done in his five-set triumph against Federer, Gulbis unleashed a big-serving barrage and after racing into a 4-0 lead in the first set, he never looked back.