Novak Djokovic described beating Rafael Nadal at the French Open as the tennis equivalent of scaling Mount Everest – and it will be how he copes with the descent that dictates his prospects in Sunday's final.

Researchers have pointed to that being the real danger on Everest expeditions, and there are perils involved in a tennis comedown too, although Djokovic was optimistic he would be ready for Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Roland Garros title match.

"I'm not the freshest guy right now obviously," Djokovic said after his four hours and 11 minutes epic semi-final against Nadal.

"The good thing is that I have a day and a half to rejuvenate and try to regroup, think about my next opponent."

The world number one intended to spend a large part of Saturday resting up before, as he put it, "hopefully being able to be fit to compete in the best-of-five with a guy who is in a great shape".

"It's not the first time that I've played an epic semi-final in a grand slam and then I've had to come back in less than 48 hours and play finals," Djokovic said.

"My recovery abilities are pretty good, I must say, throughout my career. Obviously my physiotherapist will try to do everything possible so I can be fresh.

"Because I played enough tennis, I don't need to train too much. It's really now just about taking things slowly until the day of the finals. I know what I need to do.

"Obviously Tsitsipas, first time in the finals of a grand slam, if I'm not mistaken. For him it's a great achievement, but I'm sure he doesn't want to stop there.

"He's in great form. I think he leads the rankings, race rankings, this year. He's had his best results overall. I think he matured as a player a lot.

"Clay is arguably his best surface. We played an epic five-setter last year in the semis here. I know it's going to be another tough one. I'm hoping I can recharge my batteries as much as I can because I'm going to need some power and energy for that one."

As much as Djokovic might recoil at the possibility of a brutal semi-final taking a heavy toll, there is evidence, contrary to his assessment, that he can struggle to raise his game for a grand slam title match after expending great energy in getting there.

It took him three hours and 54 minutes to score a five-set win over Tsitsipas in last year's Roland Garros semi-finals, and that was followed by a drubbing at Nadal's hands in the final. Djokovic won just seven games.

Before Friday's majestic clash with Nadal, the last time Djokovic had played a four-hour-plus semi-final at the French Open was in 2015 when he fended off Andy Murray in a gruelling five-setter. He went on to lose the final against world number nine Stan Wawrinka.

Djokovic also won a four-hour semi-final battle with Wawrinka at the 2013 US Open before losing to Nadal in the final, and earlier that year he fought off Juan Martin del Potro in a magnificent Wimbledon semi-final that lasted four hours and 43 minutes before being beaten by Murray in the title match.

If Djokovic is searching for recent evidence of his ability to follow a marathon semi-final with a match-winning turn in the title match, he would have to go back to Wimbledon in 2018, and even then there were circumstances that to some extent favoured the Serbian.

It took five hours and 15 minutes for Djokovic to overhaul Nadal in their All England Club semi-final which spanned two days, and he went on to demolish South African Kevin Anderson in the final.

However, that was hardly surprising given Anderson needed six hours and 24 minutes on the Friday to get past John Isner in his own semi-final – the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history.

That was after Anderson beat Roger Federer 13-11 in the deciding set of a marathon quarter-final, the upshot being that even if Djokovic was weary for the final after beating Nadal, he was facing a man who was practically out on his feet.

All this being said, Djokovic begins the final as favourite as he seeks a second French Open title in his sixth final appearance, and a 19th grand slam title overall.

Should he win, it would make him just the third man in history to win all four grand slam titles at least twice, after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver, and the first man to achieve that feat in the Open Era.

Amid all the talk of the 34-year-old Djokovic needing to physically recover, Tsitsipas' five-set semi-final exertions against Alexander Zverev are rather being overlooked.

That match clocked in at three hours and 37 minutes and will have been mentally and physically sapping for the 22-year-old Greek player, who, as Djokovic accurately pointed out, does lead the ATP Race to Turin standings, the table of 2021 form that decides the line-up for the ATP Finals in November.

Tsitsipas fended off a Zverev comeback, as the German recovered from two sets behind to force a decider on Friday, with the world number five showing serious big-game mettle in turning the momentum back his way.

The man who grew up near Athens, dreaming of playing on Court Philippe Chatrier, took a set off Djokovic when they met on clay in the Rome quarter-finals last month.

Now he has a first grand slam title in his sights, and looks as well equipped as any of the rising generation of young players to carry off multiple majors over the coming years.

"I'm proud of myself. I actually love what I'm doing," Tsitsipas said. "I love that I get to play in this stadium. I'm grateful for every single match that I get to play.

"I'm obviously just blessed to have the opportunity to play against the best and test myself, something that I've always dreamed and wished to happen one day. I'm able to be here and really going for it. I love that."

But as well as soaking in the experience, Tsitsipas wants to show he can be a champion at the highest level.

"It's time for me to go for my chances," he said. "I'm looking forward to that challenge. I'm looking forward to bringing my game to kind of challenge myself to step it up."

Novak Djokovic described the thrilling four-set win over Rafael Nadal that took him through to the French Open final as "the best match I was ever part of in Roland Garros".

A magnificent contest between two of the all-time greats saw 13-time French Open winner and reigning champion Nadal beaten 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The match, which ran to four hours and 11 minutes, was of such a level that tournament organisers sought and were awarded special dispensation to bypass the curfew which had been due to take effect at 23:00 local time.

It appeared, at the end of the third set, that spectators were about to be asked to leave the grounds, and the beginning of an announcement was booed as fans feared the worst.

But the message turned out to be as uplifting as the tennis, which was remarkable, Djokovic avenging his straight-sets loss in last year's title match.

"It was definitely the best match that I was ever part of in Roland Garros for me, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career," Djokovic said.

"Considering the quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the last 15-plus years, and the atmosphere which was completely electric. For both players there was a lot of support. Just amazing.

"I was very happy that there was no curfew. I heard there was a special waiver, so they allowed the crowd to stay. Just one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever.

"It's hard to find words bigger than all the superlatives you can think of for Rafa's achievements in Roland Garros. He has been the most dominant player of Roland Garros history.

"He lost two, now three times, in his entire career. He's been playing here almost 20 years. That achievement speaks for itself."

Nadal raced into a 5-0 lead, but momentum was turning Djokovic's way by the time the Spaniard crept over the finish line in that opening set.

Djokovic becomes the first player to beat Nadal twice at Roland Garros, having done so previously in the 2015 quarter-finals, and the first man to defeat him in a semi-final at the clay-court grand slam. He now leads their all-courts career head-to-head by 30 wins to 28.

"Each time you step on the court with him, you know that you have to kind of climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here," Djokovic, the 2016 champion, said. "I had won only once in I think our eight matches that we ever played in Chatrier here in Roland Garros.

"I tried to take some positives and some cues from that match in 2015 that I won against him to implement tonight, which worked out very nicely. But it's just one of these matches that I really will remember for a very long time, not just because I won the match but because of the atmosphere and just the occasion was very special."

Nadal saw his hopes of a record 21st grand slam title this weekend slip away. That would have taken him past Roger Federer and into the outright all-time lead, but should Djokovic now carry off the trophy by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas, that will put the world number one on 19 slams, ahead of a Wimbledon championship for which he will start as many people's clear favourite.

The Big Three could all be on 20 slams in a matter of weeks.

Assessing a rare loss at his favourite tournament, Nadal said: "That's sport, you know. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I tried to give my best. Probably it was not my best day out there. Even if I fought and put in a lot of effort, the position on the shots haven't been that effective.

"Against a player like him that takes the ball early, you are not able to take him out of his positions, then it is very difficult, no?"

Nadal served eight double faults and perhaps the key error was a straightforward volley that he sent long in the tie-break, but the 35-year-old put in a typically warrior-like performance.

"These kind of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can't make these mistakes," Nadal said. "So that's it. Well done for him. It has been a good fight out there. I tried my best, and today was not my day."

Novak Djokovic became the first player to beat Rafael Nadal twice at the French Open as he slowly picked apart the 13-time champion in a semi-final for the ages.

The world number one won 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 in four hours and 11 minutes, setting up a shot at Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday's final.

Djokovic got the better of Nadal in the quarter-finals in 2015, winning that one in straight sets, but this was an epic.

It even saw tournament organisers seek and receive permission to delay the event's curfew to allow spectators inside Court Philippe Chatrier to see it through to the end.

Nadal burst into a 5-0 lead in the opening set, evoking memories of his bagel that began last October's straight-sets dismantling of Serbian Djokovic in the final.

This match would not follow a similar plotline, however, and when Djokovic broke Nadal's serve on the way to getting back to 5-3, it was game on again.

Six set points came and went for Nadal, but the seventh went the Spaniard's way when Djokovic netted. It was already enthralling but there was better to come.

Djokovic sped 2-0 ahead in the second set but Nadal snatched back the break immediately and to love, sealing the game with a whipped forehand down the line.

This was a battle and Nadal was wobbling, especially when Djokovic had 0-40 against the Spaniard's serve in game six. Nadal saved two but not the third as Djokovic went 4-2 ahead. The rallies were glorious, the tension hard to bear, yet this was just the second set.

Djokovic's level dipped in the ninth game and Nadal had two break-back points but could take neither. When Djokovic survived that test, he had both a set and the momentum in his favour.

The greatest clay-court player in history was the first man to crack in the third set, Nadal broken despite saving two break points. Amid astonishing scenes of sporting theatre, Djokovic then saved two break points himself, windmilling his arms as the crowd – Nadal's crowd – chanted "Novak, Novak".

But Nadal kept coming, earning another break point, and this one he converted with a forehand down the line. They traded breaks again, Djokovic first and then, just when he was looking floored, a revived Nadal. One set all, five games all, three hours in. Nadal had a set point at 6-5 but an audacious drop shot rescued Djokovic.

Nerve failed Nadal with a volley at 4-3 in the tie-break, putting a relatively easy putaway over the baseline, and that proved costly, Djokovic seeing it out with an ace followed by a perfectly placed shot into his lunging opponent's forehand corner.

It seemed the contest was destined to finish in front of empty stands, but then came an announcement that the late-night curfew would be lifted for one night only.

"In agreement with the national authorities, the match will be allowed to continue to its end in your presence," the crowd were told. They began booing as the statement began, before realising the anticipated bad news was not coming.

Nadal broke serve in game one of the fourth set, but double faults were beginning to drip from his racket and his seventh of the match helped Djokovic soon get back on terms at 2-2.

And Djokovic broke again to lead 4-2, landing a service return on the baseline, with Nadal only able to dab the ball back into the net. He held in double quick time, and another double fault from Nadal set the tone for the final game. It was Djokovic's day and he completed a streak of six successive games to earn that final berth.
 

Data Slam: One step closer to 20 for Djokovic

If Nadal had seen off Djokovic here and followed up by beating Tsitsipas in the title match, he would have moved to 21 grand slam titles, going above Roger Federer and into the all-time lead for most singles majors in the men's game.

Instead the result opens the door for Djokovic to land his 19th slam this weekend, and very soon the Big Three could be tied together on 20. Perhaps they will finish their careers that way, but the way Djokovic fought here was a telling sign he believes he will finish his career top of the pile.

He is the first man to beat the Spaniard in a French Open semi-final, and he richly deserved this success.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic – 50/37
Nadal – 48/55

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Djokovic – 6/3
Nadal – 6/8

BREAK POINTS WON

Djokovic – 8/22
Nadal – 6/16

Barbora Krejcikova insists she belongs at the highest level of women's tennis as the surprise singles finalist attempts to achieve a French Open feat last accomplished 21 years ago.

France's own Mary Pierce was the most recent player to clinch singles and doubles titles in the same year at Roland Garros, beating Conchita Martinez in the 2000 singles final and teaming up with Martina Hingis to make it a twin trophy success.

On Saturday, Krejcikova can complete the first leg of her weekend's objective as she battles to become only the second woman playing under a Czech flag to triumph in singles at the Paris clay-court grand slam in the Open Era, after Hana Mandlikova's 1981 victory.

Martina Navratilova won the French Open title twice, in 1982 and 1984, but by that stage she was representing the United States, having previously been a runner-up for Czechoslovakia in 1975.

A world-class doubles star, Krejcikova has rocketed up the singles rankings in the past 18 months, having ended 2019 at 135th on the WTA list. Now up to a career-high 33rd, victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Court Philippe Chatrier would lift her to 15th.

Speaking on Friday, Krejcikova suggested the pandemic, and the enforced deceleration of the tennis tours, had given her the time to mix up her singles and doubles schedules when previously her diary was overly packed.

The 25-year-old had been playing lower-tier ITF singles events but main-tour WTA doubles, and it had been a difficult juggling act.

"I hope there will be no more ITFs in singles for me," Krejcikova said. "I want to stay on this level. I want to really work hard just to stay here, to be able to play such matches like this. It was really tough playing ITFs because the schedule, the WTA in doubles, the schedule was tough. It was tight.

"Sometimes we played well, then I missed the tournament, then I wasn't ready to play. It was difficult. But I really think that the pandemic really helped me.

"Right now I just want to keep the level. I don't want to go backwards."

Should she and Katerina Siniakova win the doubles on Sunday, when last year's singles champion Iga Swiatek and American Bethanie Mattek-Sands should provide tough opposition, it would mean Krejcikova goes back to number one in those rankings.

Krejcikova has a 14-3 singles record on clay this season, with only two WTA players winning more matches on the surface (Paula Badosa 17-3, Coco Gauff 16-4)

She will hope to become just the third unseeded women's singles champion in French Open history, after Swiatek (2020) and Jelena Ostapenko (2017).

After teaming up with Siniakova to scuttle Magda Linette and Bernarda Perra 6-1 6-2 in their doubles semi-final on Friday, Krejcikova said: "I hope we saved some power for the finals.

"I'm looking forward that I'm going to play two more times on Chatrier. It's always perfect to play this court because it's a beautiful court. I think it's going to be a lot of fun playing these two finals."

Pavlyuchenkova is three weeks away from turning 30 and would become the third-oldest first-time grand slam winner on the women's tour, after Flavia Pennetta (33 years 200 days, 2015 US Open) and Ann Jones (30 years 261 days, 1969 Wimbledon).

She would also become the oldest Russian woman to win a singles major, taking that statistic away from Maria Sharapova who was 27 when she scooped her fifth and final slam in 2014 at Roland Garros.

Sitting 32nd in the rankings, she would jump to 14th by taking the title but is guaranteed to jump back into the top 20, for the first time since January 2018.

Pavlyuchenkova banished her grand slam quarter-final jinx this week, having lost all six of her previous last-eight singles matches at that stage in grand slams, including a 2011 loss to Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros. She will hope her first trek beyond the quarters is not her last.

"It's been a long road. It's been a lot of ups and downs. It's been a tough one," said Pavlyuchenkova, who is playing in her 52nd grand slam.

"I definitely didn't expect this year being in the final. I guess you can't expect those things. I was just there working hard, doing everything possible. I just said to myself, 'You know what, this year let's do whatever it takes, anything you can do to improve your game, your mentality'.

"I started working with a sports psychologist, everything. I wanted to give it a try so I have no regrets after. That's it."

One thing is for sure: a new grand slam champion is about to be crowned, and Paris is used to that. The past five Roland Garros champions have all been new to the slam-winning experience, with Garbine Muguruza's maiden major in 2016 followed by breakthroughs for Ostapenko, Simona Halep, Ash Barty and Swiatek.

Stefanos Tsitsipas fended off a fightback from Alexander Zverev at the French Open to become the first Greek to reach a grand slam singles final.

The two men left standing from a wide-open bottom half of the draw delivered a fascinating encounter, which Tsitsipas appeared to be dominating after claiming the first two sets.

However, Zverev came from two sets down against Pablo Carreno Busta to reach the final of the US Open last year and threatened to repeat the feat by storming back to send this last-four clash to a decisive set.

Yet the levels Zverev reached across the third and fourth sets largely deserted him in the fifth and Tsitsipas took advantage to prevail 6-3 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-3 and set up a meeting with 13-time champion Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in the final.

A poor start from Zverev gave Tsitsipas the early impetus as he broke for a 2-0 lead, thanks in part to a pair of double faults in the German's opening service game.

He consolidated for a 3-0 cushion and that edge was all Tsitsipas needed to take the opening set. The tide looked to be turning when Zverev surged 3-0 up in the second, only for Tsitsipas to rattle off the next six games and take command.

But Zverev did not let his advantage slip after an early break in the third and, if he needed any further fire to fuel a comeback, it came in the ninth game as he launched a tirade at the umpire after an incorrect call went Tsitsipas' way.

Zverev subsequently served out the third with little difficulty and maintained his momentum to strike in the opening game of the fourth set, the break of serve prompting a furious reaction from Tsitsipas this time.

No further breaks were required for Zverev to send the match to a fifth, which he did with an unreturned serve after an exquisite lob brought up two set points.

However, the fourth set had been an engrossing battle between the aggressiveness of Zverev and the superb defence and accuracy of Tsitsipas, and it was those traits that helped the latter get ahead in the decider.

Zverev ripped a backhand into the net to give Tsitsipas a 3-1 lead that he refused to relinquish, clinching victory on his fifth match point with a history-making ace out wide.

Barbora Krejcikova felt the guiding hand of Jana Novotna influence her stunning 7-5 4-6 9-7 Roland Garros victory over Maria Sakkari as the former doubles expert reached a first singles grand slam final.

Five times a slam winner in doubles, in which she is a former world number one, Krejcikova has diverted a large part of her focus to singles.

Novotna – the former Wimbledon champion and two-time French Open semi-finalist – helped to coach and mentor Krejcikova in the early stages of her professional career.

The death of Novotna from cancer in 2017 hit Krejcikova and many others in tennis hard, yet the rookie finalist continues to feel her fellow Czech is watching out for her.

"When I'm on court, I only think about tennis. I don't really think about anything else. So I was just thinking about tennis," Krejcikova said.

"I was just thinking about next ball, thinking where she's going to serve, where I should serve, what shot should I play, where should I place the ball.

"I don't really think about the things from outside. It's something actually she taught me. I just try to do that.

"Like every time before the match or after the match I just feel like she's there, she's looking after me."

Sakkari had a match point when 5-3 ahead in the third set against Krejcikova but the 17th seed went on to lose in Thursday's chaotic battle.

When that big chance came her way, the Greek player floated a short backhand that Krejcikova smashed away with a nerveless drive volley.

"I have to be deadly honest: I got stressed," Sakkari said. "I was starting thinking that I'm a point away from being in the final. I guess it's a rookie mistake."

There was a reprieve late in the decider for Sakkari when a shot of hers landed out and was signalled as being out, but the chair umpire overruled, incorrectly. That was on a match point for Krejcikova, who had to rein back her excitement and play another point.

"At that moment I was just like, 'Well, it's out, but what can you do?'," Krejcikova said.

On Saturday, Krejcikova faces the biggest match of her life, against fellow pre-tournament long shot, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The world number 32 and 33 will meet in the biggest women's match of the clay-court season, an outcome nobody expected.

Krejcikova won her first career singles title in the lead-up to this fortnight, triumphing impressively in Strasbourg.

She has a French Open title already in her back pocket, having landed the women's doubles with Katerina Siniakova in 2018.

There could yet be a twin title success for Krejcikova this weekend, as the 25-year-old and Siniakova have a doubles semi-final ahead of them on Friday.

"I always wanted to play tournaments like this, big tournaments, big opponents, last rounds," Krejcikova said, speaking of her new-found singles prowess.

"It was just taking so long. It just took me some time, but I think right now it's actually the right moment. Especially mentally, I think I'm just there.

"I really matured. I just really appreciate things a lot, especially after what I've gone through, also with this pandemic and everything."

Barbora Krejcikova reached her first grand slam final as she beat Maria Sakkari in a chaotic and error-strewn French Open last-four battle.

Sakkari, who defeated defending champion Iga Swiatek in the quarters, could not capitalise on a match point as she missed out on becoming the first Greek woman to reach the final of a tennis major.

World number 33 Krejcikova, a title winner in Strasbourg before this remarkable Roland Garros run, overcame her own inconsistency to edge through 7-5 4-6 9-7 in three hours and 18 minutes.

The 25-year-old will face another maiden major finalist in the form of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated Tamara Zidansek in much more routine fashion earlier.

"I always wanted to play a match like this," Krejcikova said of her semi-final win. "Such a challenging match, both had chances, both playing so well, but only one can win. Even if I'd lost today, I'd have been very proud of myself. Fighting is the most important thing."

Krejcikova certainly did have to battle hard, coming back from two breaks down to clinch an enthralling opening set which would set the tone for what was to follow.

Sakkari responded in fierce fashion, and seemed destined to claim a second-set bagel at 4-0 up, yet Krejcikova had other ideas, and three games later she was a break away from restoring parity.

The break did not come, however, with Sakkari holding to love. The Greek's first set point was wasted with a dreadful forehand effort, but she set up a decider at the third time of asking, leaping across the court in celebration, much to the delight of a partisan crowd.

Krejcikova made her opponent wait with a lengthy stoppage between the sets, and Sakkari's momentum appeared to have been dashed as the Czech held to race into a lead.

But Sakkari's composure returned – she dropped a deft touch shot over the net to hold, before capitalising on Krejcikova's sloppiness to make it 3-1.

Krejcikova dragged herself back again, some sensational, down-the-line backhands frustrating Sakkari, who did nevertheless move to within a game of victory.

Once more, Krejcikova refused to roll over, and a dreadful drop shot handed her a reprieve.

Krejcikova took full advantage but saw three match points go begging as Sakkari took her turn to bounce back from the brink.

Victory looked to have been assured when Sakkari sent a forehand long, only for the chair umpire to incorrectly rule the shot as in, but in a remarkable show of resilience, Krejcikova fittingly hammered a backhand down the line to seal a hard-earned victory.

 

Data Slam: Sakkari's trips to the net prove her downfall

The Greek seemed reluctant all match to take steps towards the net, instead relying on some thunderous efforts from the baseline.

Perhaps her reluctance was justified, as she missed three presentable opportunities for points when she did charge forward, playing some woefully executed drop shots, finishing with five out of eight points at the net, as opposed to 13 from 17 for Krejcikova.

In total, both players clocked up over 50 unforced errors.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Krejcikova – 31/58
Sakkari – 27/53

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Krejcikova – 5/5
Sakkari – 2/3

BREAK POINTS WON

Krejcikova – 7/15
Sakkari – 6/11

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova conceded a younger version of herself would have been bemused by why it had taken so long to reach a grand slam final after she finally did so at the French Open on Thursday.

The 29-year-old turned her first major semi-final appearance into a maiden final berth with a 7-5 6-3 victory over Tamara Zidansek in Paris.

It will be Pavlyuchenkova's first outing in a grand slam final in what is her 52nd major, which establishes an Open Era record. She has become the first woman to play more than 50 majors before reaching a final.

Asked what her 14-year-old self would have said if she had known the wait would be so long, the Russian replied: "Fourteen-year-old me would tell me, like, what took you so long?

"It's tough to really talk about it right now. I don't know. It's been a long road. I had my own long special road. Everybody has different ways. I'm just happy I'm in the final.

"This is something I've been thinking about every single time. I think as tennis players, that's the only goal I think we have in the head. That's why we are playing tennis.

"That's for us the biggest achievement you can get. That's what you are playing for, of course. I think about it all the time.

"I've been thinking about it since I was a junior, since I was a little kid, since I started playing tennis. It's been there in my head forever."

Pavlyuchenkova had six quarter-final singles losses to her name in slams before this tournament, a record that suggested a career of near-misses might be on the cards.

Curiously, she has also reached six doubles quarter-finals in the majors and also failed to win through any of those.

She now has a chance to end her long wait for a major title this weekend at Roland Garros, but admits she has had worries along the way.

"I had a lot of doubts. I could beat top-10 players and make the quarter-final of a major. I was very close to semi-finals a couple of times, but then it wouldn't happen," she said.

"It was just up and down in terms of results. But I feel like I'm there, I can beat those players, but the consistency is off, something is always off.

"Those little puzzles were not coming together every time. I guess maybe I had a lot of expectations that I couldn't deal with over the years. It's been a lot of different things."

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova turned her first grand slam semi-final appearance into a ticket to the final thanks to a 7-5 6-3 victory over Tamara Zidansek at the French Open.

The Russian had already broken new ground by ending a run of six consecutive quarter-final losses in slams, with the 29-year-old now set to face Barbora Krejcikova or Maria Sakkari in the showpiece.

She certainly did not have it all her own way against surprise package Zidansek – another slam semi-final debutant – on Court Philippe Chatrier, having been broken in the opening game to suggest perhaps a hint of nerves.

But Pavlyuchenkova, who at 29 is six years older than her opponent, drew on all her experience to finish the job in straight sets and remain on course for a career-defining success in Paris.

A hold to love in game three of the first set seemed to put Pavlyuchenkova at ease as she began to find her range, which showed as the number 31 seed became increasingly aggressive in her approach.

The path to a one-set lead was still dotted with stumbles as there were five breaks of serve between the players, the last of which sealed it at 7-5 in Pavlyuchenkova's favour.

At 4-1 up in the second set she appeared to be coasting, before losing six points and two games on the bounce.

But again Pavlyuchenkova dug deep to find another level and finally send her Slovenian rival packing.

Data Slam: Second serves stifle Zidansek

In a match where both players looked vulnerable on serve at times, the disparity in points won on second serve proved telling.

While Pavlyuchenkova showed cunning and variety to mix things up, winning 54 per cent of the points on her second serve, Zidansek could only manage 38 per cent and was broken six times.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Pavlyuchenkova – 19/22
Zidansek – 27/33

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Pavlyuchenkova – 3/3
Zidansek – 1/3

BREAK POINTS WON

Pavlyuchenkova– 6/10
Zidansek – 4/11

Novak Djokovic did not try to play it cool after setting up a dream Roland Garros showdown with Rafael Nadal. 

The world number one defeated Matteo Berrettini 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 Wednesday to secure a semi-final match-up with the 13-time French Open champion. 

Djokovic admitted his meetings with Nadal are "not like any other match" and said he expects a "great battle" Friday when the pair meet for the 58th time. 

"Let's face it, it's the biggest challenge that you can have playing on clay against Nadal on this court in which he has had so much success in his career," Djokovic told a press conference. "In the final stages of a grand slam, it doesn't get bigger than that.

"Of course, each time we face each other, there's that extra tension and expectations. Just vibes are different walking on the court with him.

"But that's why our rivalry has been historic I think for this sport. I've been privileged to play him so many times."

Djokovic holds a narrow edge against the man he called his biggest rival, with 29 victories to Nadal's 28, but the Spaniard has won the last two meetings -- including a straight-sets triumph in the French Open final last year. 

"Obviously different conditions are going to be played on Friday than it was the case in finals of last year, so I'm hopefully going to be able to also perform at the high level than I have, especially in the first two sets in the last year's final.

"The quality and the level of tennis that I've been playing in the last three, four weeks on clay -- Rome, Belgrade and here -- is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match.

"I'm confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn't be here. Let's have a great battle."

Djokovic had to battle Wednesday to defeat the ninth-seeded Italian, letting loose a primal scream when he finally put the match away in the fourth set. 

The Serbian said the crowd was Davis Cup-like before fans were ushered out due to the local curfew. 

"The crowd lifted him up. He was playing some really powerful tennis," Djokovic said. 

"Especially in the third and fourth he served tremendously strong and precise. It was just very difficult to read his serve and play someone like him.

"He's very talented. He can play well from the back of the court. He's got a lethal forehand, dropshots. ... When he's on, it's tough to play him."

Novak Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal in the semi-final of the French Open after defeating Matteo Berrettini in four sets.

The 18-time grand slam champion, who has only one title to his name at Roland Garros, was somewhere close to his imperious best on Court Philippe Chatrier as world number nine Berrettini's run was halted in a 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 loss.

This is as far as the Italian has got in Paris but Djokovic was determined to let him go no further, the world number one having suffered a scare in the last round as he fell two sets behind to Lorenzo Musetti before Berrettini's compatriot retired hurt.

Djokovic's peerless returning ability was on full display, and will have to be again against the 'King of Clay' Nadal, as he negotiated a tricky test with relatively little fuss.

The Serbian showed laser-like precision off both wings, affording Berrettini precious few opportunities to apply any pressure at all across the first two sets. 

Seeking to become only the second Italian player to defeat the French Open's number one seed after Adriano Panatta did so against Bjorn Borg in 1976, Berrettini could not find the answers to Djokovic's constant probing.

Like Djokovic, Berrettini was handed a walkover in the previous round after Roger Federer withdrew, although he did not have to even take to the court.

The third set offered some small hint that it may have given Berrettini an advantage in terms of freshness as he came through a hard-fought tie-break, fists pumping as he forced the contest late into the Parisian night, meaning the fans in attendance would not be able to see the match to its conclusion.

But a Djokovic break late into an hour-long fourth handed him the victory, prompting passionate, wide-eyed celebrations from the Serbian in the direction of his coaching team.

Data Slam: Djokovic can't be faulted

Opponents looking for any kind of weakness in Djokovic's game might feel some glimmer of hope when they get a look at his second serve. And then that second serve comes and the 34-year-old's variety leaves them befuddled. Djokovic won 65 per cent of the points on his second serve, proving that even when it appeared to door may have been ajar for Berrettini, it was quickly slammed shut.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic – 44/19
Berrettini – 55/51

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Djokovic – 10/1
Berrettini – 11/3

BREAK POINTS WON

Djokovic – 4/9
Berrettini – 0/3

Iga Swiatek blamed a gruelling recent schedule after her French Open defence ended in a shock quarter-final defeat to Maria Sakkari.

The Pole came into Wednesday's last eight match having won her last 22 sets at Roland Garros, but lost 6-4 6-4 to the competition's 17th seed.

Swiatek headed to Paris full of confidence after winning on clay in Rome two weeks prior, and she had also helped Bethanie Mattek-Sands into the semi-finals of this year's doubles.

However, the world number nine believes she may have paid the price for all that tennis in the form of a lacklustre display against Sakkari.

She said: "Well, obviously I didn't play my best tennis. That's for sure. But Maria did a good job with playing at my forehand, which wasn't working pretty well today.

"It's good for her that she saw that. She picked good tactics, for sure. I struggled with picking the right place where to play. I couldn't play some shots that usually give me points.

"Yeah, my balls weren't, like, really deep and heavy. Basically that's my biggest weapon, so it was really hard to play without that.

"Also, you know, I think, like, past couple weeks hit me kind of yesterday. I just didn't have good days, I couldn't do like physical recovery well because I was stressed. Days like that happen, and it's normal."

Swiatek left the court for treatment on her thigh after losing the first set, but she refused to blame that issue for her defeat.

She added: "Right now I know it's nothing serious. When I was on court, I felt it totally differently. As I said, I couldn't even sleep well yesterday. I slept like a few hours.

"I think I was feeling everything twice as much as I should. It was hard to rationally just see what's going on. I made the decision to tape it just to feel sure [to give] me, like, a little bit more confidence when I was moving.

"Still my reaction was bad. I didn't play well, like, tactically and also technically. I was on my heels, so it's hard to make something of that kind of game."

Sakkari, meanwhile, revealed that her commitment to simply enjoying Wednesday's match helped her secure a maiden Grand Slam semi-final berth.

She said: "I'm speechless - it is a dream come true. It is a very nice feeling, I couldn't have done it without my team and their support so I want to thank them.

"We still have a long way to go of course [if we want to win the tournament] but we made a huge step.

"I'm not going to tell you the game plan of course because we will play again [against Swiatek] for sure! So I'm not gonna say our little secrets!

"But I really enjoyed it. Before coming into the match I just sat down and spoke to myself and said it is a very important match but just enjoy it - playing at one of the best stadiums in the world. So I have enjoyed it."

Greece boasts two semi-finalists in this year's French Open after Stefanos Tsitsipas also progressed to the last four of the men's draw.

And Sakkari believes the sport may even have overtaken football and basketball in terms of popularity back in her homeland.

She continued: "Now it's probably the biggest sport these days. Football is over. Basketball is over. So tennis is in the spotlight.

"Yeah, with Stefanos, I mean, we're very close. We know each other since a very young age. I mean, I see him every day here. We're actually having dinner with our teams next to each other every night.

"I'm very, very happy for him and his family. It's very exciting times for Greek tennis."

Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record-extending 14th French Open title after overcoming Diego Schwartzman in an intense quarter-final on Wednesday.

Schwartzman ended Nadal's run of 36 consecutive sets won at Roland Garros to level up the contest at one set apiece, but the Spaniard's quality told in the end.

The third seed held serve throughout a tense third set and eased through the fourth to take the match 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-0 in two hours and 45 minutes in front of 5,000 spectators.

Nadal, who won nine games in a row to see out the contest, will now face either Novak Djokovic or Matteo Berrettini for a place in the final.

Like Nadal, Schwartzman had not dropped a set at this year's tournament heading into this showdown, but the Argentinian was broken in the sixth and eighth games of the first to fall behind.

However, Schwartzman played some sublime and attacking tennis to instantly hit back by twice breaking Nadal in the second set.

In doing so, he became just the third player to win a set in more than one match against Nadal at Roland Garros after Djokovic and Roger Federer.

A tight third set followed, with both players holding until the ninth game when Nadal took the second of his break points with a slice-lob combo.

That proved to be a turning point in the match as Nadal claimed the following game to wrap up the set and dominated a swift fourth set to book his place in a 14th semi-final.

Coco Gauff believes her French Open quarter-final woe against Barbora Krejcikova will ultimately help her to become a major champion.

The 17-year-old was playing in the last eight of a grand slam for the first time on Wednesday, though the occasion did not go as she hoped.

Unseeded Krejcikova won 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 in a back-and-forth battle in which Gauff had her opportunities.

She led 3-0 and 5-3 in the first set as five set points passed her by and at one stage lost seven straight games.

The American, who had 41 unforced errors, trailed 5-0 in the second set before briefly threatening a comeback in a fighting finish and believes the experience will prove to be beneficial.

"Yeah, I mean, I'm obviously disappointed that I wasn't able to close out the first set," said Gauff. "To be honest, it's in the past, it already happened. 

"After the match my hitting partner told me this match will probably make me a champion in the future. I really do believe that.

"I never want to give up. I really did fight till the last point. 

"I'm proud that I didn't give up because I could have easily gave up at 5-0 or 5-1 [down in the second set]. 

"I think losing these matches are going to pay off in the future. If I continue fighting like this, other players, maybe if they do have the lead, will start to get nervous because they know I'm not going to give in.

"Obviously it was a great season. I just want to keep continuing to get better. Hopefully next year I'll be better. 

"But I think that I've learned a lot over this swing and I have a lot that I can take with me later into my next tournaments later this year."

Gauff, who confirmed she still planned to play in the Olympics this year, reflected on what had gone wrong against Krejcikova, who will face Maria Sakkari in the semis.

The teenager added: "I feel like the set points I did have I did play a little bit passive. That's not kind of how I want to play tennis. I always want to play first-strike tennis. So that's something I'll work on.

"I mean, for me the biggest thing she played well in the pressure points. She also redirected the ball really, really well, kind of making me make mistakes. 

"I knew she was going to play very smart tennis and play the high-percentage plays. That's what she did.

"Next time going into it, I'm definitely going to focus more making less errors, just trusting myself on the set points." 

A return to Wimbledon, where she stunned the world to reach the fourth round as a 15-year-old in 2019, is now fast approaching for Gauff.

She added: "I'm excited to go back, for sure. My most memorable thing from Wimbledon is just the crowd experience. 

"That was like one of my first matches on a big stadium like that, playing against really great people like Venus Williams. 

"It kind of just was the start of, like, my career, I guess, and making it on the pro tour. So, yeah, I'm excited to go back.

"I'm just happy that right now I'm healthy and everything. Hopefully that keeps up all the way through Wimbledon."

Iga Swiatek saw the defence of her French Open title ended by a rampant Maria Sakkari in Paris.

Number 17 seed Sakkari was playing in her first grand slam quarter-final but showed no signs of nerves as she closed out a 6-4 6-4 victory against last year's champion in one hour and 35 minutes.

Sakkari will play unseeded Barbora Krejcikova in what will be a first major semi-final appearance for both players.

It was a scrappy start to the contest with both players struggling to establish a rhythm on serve.

Early breaks were exchanged before Sakkari had to save four break points in her next game to avoid another and Swiatek then fended off three in the next.

Sakkari looked a different player from then on as she seized control. At 4-4, a powerful forehand winner gave her two break points and she claimed the first of them.

After a first opportunity to move ahead was not taken as she served for the set, two big serves saved a break point and gave her another chance that was taken with a fine backhand, prompting huge emotion from the Greek.

Sakkari had the momentum and went 2-0 up in the second set, at which point Swiatek called for a medical timeout that resulted in a 10-minute delay.

After emerging with strapping on her right thigh, Swiatek looked more confident on her return, holding confidently before saving two break points in her next service game to remain in contention.

But Sakkari was undeterred, serving superbly and not allowing a single break-point opportunity in the second set, clinching a famous triumph that brought tears to her eyes with her third match point.

Data Slam: Swiatek streak ends

Having not dropped a set in any round of her successful campaign last year or in her four victories in 2021, Swiatek saw her streak of winning 22 consecutive sets in Paris abruptly halted. 

Still just 20, Swiatek will have many more opportunities but this result will have come as a shock to the system.

 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Sakkari – 26/24
Swiatek – 17/25

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Sakkari – 5/2
Swiatek – 0/2

BREAK POINTS WON
Sakkari – 3/8
Swiatek – 1/6

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