The much awaited showdown between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal came a step closer as both the top two players in the world eased into the Rolex Paris Masters in Bercy,
I'm happy to be back in the semi-finals.
The two rivals who are aiming to end the year as the top plyer in the world, have dominated their halves of the draw with their quarter final matches bringing on strong displays from both of them.
The 33-year-old Nadal who has never won the Bercy title will become world number on Monday irrespective of this week’s overall result but will cement his place at the top for the end-of season if he can win the title on Sunday.
Nadal beat French wildcard Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(4) 6-1 as he chased his maiden title in the French capital which would extend, if successful, his tally of Masters’ crowns to a record 36.
In the meantime, his victory means he has made the last four at 73 Master events whilst overall victory would secure him his 85th ATP title. More importantly it would be only the third won in an indoor arena.
His next hurdle is the young Denis Shapovalov who thrashed local hero, Gael Monfils, 6-2 6-2 as he continues to develop his game. It is the youngsters fourth semi-final appearance at Masters level and his victory ended Monfils’ hope of making the Nitto ATP Finals. The Frenchman just needed a win to qualify and usurp Matteo Berrettini who is placed in the last slot
“He (Berrettini) had better give me a bottle of wine or something,” joked world number 28 Shapovalov on learning that his win had helped the Italian.
Nadal has reached the semis for the first time at the event since 2013, having withdrawn injured before the quarter-finals on his last appearance in 2017.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries in this tournament,” said Nadal referring to his previous problems at the event. “I’m happy to be back in the semi-finals.”
The first set of his match with Tsonga proved tricky as the Frenchman was rock solid on serve with neither player giving much away until the tie-break.
There Nadal’s nerve proved the stronger as the second seed stepped up his own game with two incredible winners hit on the run to establish a crucial one-set lead.
Then Tsonga’s serve briefly deserted him in the second game of the second, as successive double faults allowed Nadal to claim the first break of the match. That was all the Spaniard needed to go on and claim his place in the last four.
Earlier Djokovic had crushed seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in 58-minutes 6-1 6-2 and will next face a regenerated Grigor Dimitrov who overcame a spirited challenge from the unseeded Chilean Cristian Garin 6-2 7-5.
Djokovic declared that it had been “one of his best matches of the season” as he levelled his head-to-head score with the Greek at 2-all.
“I played one of the best matches of the season,” said Djokovic. “I prepared myself very well for this match.
“I lost to Stefanos about three weeks ago in Shanghai. And obviously I went through the videos and understanding on what I did well, what I didn’t do so well, what I can do better.”
The defeat ended Tsitsipas’ run of three consecutive semi-finals. It has also dealt a bit of blows to his confidence ahead of the Nitto ATP Finals where he will be making his debut at the end of season extravaganza which starts on November 10.
“He (Dimitrov) has been one of the best talents we had in the sport in the last decade,” said Djokovic who holds an 8-1 winning record against the Bulgarian
“He’s been playing some terrific tennis this week… I don’t play too bad myself, so it’s going to be for sure a good one.”
Former world number three Dimitrov last reached the semis at a Masters tournament in Monte Carlo in 2018, but subsequently lost his form and entered the US Open ranked a lowly 78.
The Bulgarian became the lowest-ranked player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 2008 at Flushing Meadows, before losing to Daniil Medvedev.
World number 42 Garin, playing in his first Masters quarter-final, served for the second set at 5-4, but the 28-year-old Dimitrov reeled off three straight games to claim an impressive victory.
Looking ahead to their semi-final, Dkokovic, who is bidding to tie Pete Sampras’ record of finishing as the year-end number one on six occasions, said: “It will obviously be a difficult match. I have lots of respect for him. He has lots of talent and is very quick. But I have lots of confidence after this match (against Tsitsipas) today.”