Djokovic through to French Open semis after avenging U.S. Open DQ loss
2-time Wimbledon champ No. 7 Petra Kvitova advances, will play No. Sofia 4 Kenin
Novak Djokovic overcame a bothersome left arm and an early deficit to reach the French Open semifinals for the 10th time.
The top-seeded Djokovic kept flexing and stretching that arm and got off to a slow start Wednesday night before he received massages from a trainer, righted himself and beat No. 17 seed Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to move closer to a second championship at Roland Garros and 18th Grand Slam trophy.
This was a rematch from the U.S. Open last month, when Djokovic was defaulted for inadvertently hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball he smacked in anger. That went into the books as a loss and remains the only blemish on Djokovic's 36-1 record in 2020.
Djokovic certainly seems to have moved past that episode, winning all 10 matches he's played since.
He hadn't even ceded a set at Roland Garros this year until Wednesday, when he was troubled physically at the outset. Djokovic showed up for the match with a bandage on the back of his neck, then made clear from the get-go there was something wrong with his left arm.
WATCH | Djokovic suceeds in 'rematch' of U.S. Open DQ round:
He is right-handed, but the left side is important, too. He uses it for his two-fisted backhand and to throw the ball in the air on serves. Whatever impediment there was to his play, whatever the pain level might have been, the issue was, at the very least, a distraction.
Nadal vs. Schwartzman
Djokovic will meet No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in one of Friday's semifinals. No. 2 Rafael Nadal faces No. 12 Diego Schwartzman in the other.
Nadal is seeking a 13th title in Paris and 20th major championship overall, which would equal Roger Federer's record for men. Schwartzman never has played in a major semifinal.
In the women's semifinals Thursday, it'll be No. 4 Sofia Kenin vs. No. 7 Petra Kvitova, and 54th-ranked Iga Swiatek vs. 131st-ranked Nadia Podoroska, the first female qualifier to get this far at the French Open.
Tsitsipas reached his first French Open semifinal with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 victory over 13th-seeded Andrey Rublev, taking control after trailing in the first set with a run of five consecutive games, and 11 of 13.
WATCH | Tsitsipas flips the script:
At the U.S. Open, Tsitsipas failed to convert a half-dozen match points in a third-round loss. Then, against Rublev in the final of the clay-court Hamburg Open on Sept. 27, which also was Day 1 of the French Open, Tsitsipas served for the victory and again could not close it out, absorbing another disheartening defeat. Two days after that, in Paris, Tsitsipas lost the initial two sets of his first-round match against 109th-ranked Jaume Munar.
But Tsitsipas hasn't lost a set since.
"I'm chasing something spectacular," the 22-year-old from Greece said.
The first obvious sign of trouble for Djokovic came when the 33-year-old from Serbia stepped out into Court Philippe Chatrier with a rather large square of beige athletic tape on the back of his neck, a patch that began to curl at the top and peel away late in the first set. He later removed it entirely.
The next indication came on the match's very first point, when Djokovic let his ball toss drop and abandoned the serve mid-motion.
Between points, he manipulated his left arm. At changeovers, he rubbed it. He hit himself in the crook of that arm and the lower part of his biceps, pounding repeatedly with the heel of his right hand. He leaned back against the corner of his sideline seat to push his left triceps into it.
WATCH | Sofia Kenin advances to semifinals:
Demonstrative as ever, he smacked himself on his thighs with his racket or hung his head or leaned over with hands on knees after missed shots — and there were plenty of misses. The drop shots so successful for Djokovic all tournament were off-target. Getting serves in was difficult. He was hesitant with groundstrokes.
In the opening set, Djokovic accumulated a whopping 16 unforced errors — accounting for nearly half of Carreno Busta's 33 points.
Maybe that did the trick, because from then on, Djokovic was a different player.
His drop shots functioned properly. He was at his customary best during lengthy baseline exchanges. He had twice as many winners as unforced errors in the second set. He took nine of 11 games to make it a set apiece and 3-0 in the third. While he gave back that break, another three-game run gave him the set.
In the fourth, with the stadium's new retractable roof open, and a drizzle falling, Djokovic broke to 4-3, and Carreno Busta covered his head with a towel at the changeover.
WATCH | Petra Kvitova makes long-awaited return to French Open semis:
Still, the 29-year-old Spaniard didn't pack it in, earning chances to break back in the next game. Djokovic fended those off and was a game away from winning.
Don't think Djokovic was entirely at ease, though, even once he was in the lead. He suddenly would turn toward his guest box and bellow — sometimes after negative developments, sometimes after positive ones.
His body, at least, no longer seemed to be a source of frustration.
Kenin's 1st semis in Paris
Kenin, who won the Australian Open in February, advanced Wednesday by defeating Danielle Collins 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 in an all-American quarterfinal, after two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova eliminated Laura Siegemund 6-3, 6-3.
For Kenin, it's her first semifinal in Paris; for Kvitova, her first since 2012.
The French Open was the site of Kvitova's return to tennis in 2017 after she was attacked by a knife-wielding intruder at her home in the Czech Repubic, injuring all five fingers on her left hand, the one she uses to swing her racket.
"Definitely I'm proud of this," she said of being back in the semifinals now, "and I hope this journey, it's not [over] yet."