ROLAND GARROS 2014
Djokovic Steps Up Historic Bid With Roland Garros Final Berth
by James Buddell|
Novak Djokovic is one match win away from reclaiming No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. Should he triumph at Roland Garros in Sunday's final, he would also become the eighth man in tennis history to complete a career Grand Slam.
Second seed and 2012 runner-up Djokovic advanced to his 13th Grand Slam championship final on a sun-kissed Friday in Paris, with a 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over No. 18 seed Ernests Gulbis in two hours and 36 minutes.
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Gulbis, who will break into the Top 10 for the first time on Monday, was in a confident mood at the start of his first major semi-final. The Latvian started with a love service hold and clever interplay near the net in the fourth game, resulted in Gulbis slicing a backhand winner down the line for 15/40 on Djokovic's serve. Gulbis could not convert either opportunity, but minutes later he would rue missing the first point – a routine backhand off a second serve.
Though he was able to get good kick on his serve in the hot conditions, poorly executed volleys and backhand errors cost Gulbis. He got out of jail on two occasions, but Djokovic showed great mental resilience to clinch the first break for a 3-2 lead. Djokovic remained workmanlike as two set point opportunities came and went at 5-3. However, his third opportunity was executed to perfection from the return to the final backhand. Gulbis’ forehand potency went off the boil and Djokovic won the 41-minute opener having won 86 per cent of his first service points. He had committed eight unforced errors.
Though chances to break were non-existent through the first six games of the second set, Djokovic was not being pushed by Gulbis. Through five matches at Roland Garros, Djokovic had won 66 per cent of his second serve returns and he maintained that figure as the weight of his desire for victory – coupled with his remarkable consistency from the baseline – proved too strong for Gulbis. When Gulbis hit a backhand long at 3-4, 30/40, he was left searching for answers. Djokovic ran through the set, losing 12 of his service points, and took control on his third set point to close the 33-minute passage of play.
Gulbis left Court Philippe Chatrier at the end of the set. Like Murray, during his 2012 US Open triumph, you can imagine that Gulbis looked into a mirror – summoning the courage and conviction to lengthen the contest – during his comfort break. His fortunes changed with a return to his aggressive self and at 3-2, he pushed Djokovic out of his comfort zone. Though Djokovic saved two break points, Gulbis proved that he was up for the fight. Finally, at the fifth time of asking, Gulbis clinched the break for a 5-3 lead with a sizzling backhand winner. His celebration was muted. A few minutes later, he struck an ace down the T, in a hold to 30, to wrap up the 46-minute set. Gulbis had struck 19 winners and won 82 per cent of his first service points, while Djokovic was down at 14 per cent in second serves won.
Djokovic’s appetite returned at the start of the fourth set, when two forehand errors by Gulbis gave the second seed a 2-0 lead. However, with the sun in his eyes and perhaps the weight of his own expectations, Djokovic was left frustrated when he lost his serve to 15. The weight of his shots left him, but Gulbis misfired at 3-3 and with victory on the horizon, Djokovic re-focused to step up his challenge. At 3-4, Gulbis missed three first serves and paid the price. At 30/40, Gulbis struck a backhand long. He bowed his head, his hands on his knees. Djokovic went on to record his 30th match win of the year.