MONTREAL — Novak Djokovic’s nickname is The Joker and tennis fans in Montreal have seen the playful side of the Serbian star this week as he has danced with a tennis ball mascot and entertained the fans after each of his wins at Uniprix Stadium.
But the top-seeded Djokovic was all business Friday as he defeated seventh-seeded Richard Gasquet 6-2. 6-1 in 51 minutes to reach Saturday’s semifinals of the $3.4-million Rogers Cup Canadian Open men’s tennis championships.
Djokovic’s opponent Saturday evening (8 p.m., CBC, Radio-Canada) will be fourth-seeded Rafael Nadal, who was only a little less dominant as he eliminated qualifier Marinko Matosevic of Australia 6-2, 6-4 in 79 minutes.
The other semifinal Saturday afternoon will be an all-Canadian affair with 11th-seeded Milos Raonic of Richmond Hill, Ont., playing Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver. That match goes at 3 p.m. (CBC, Radio-Canada).
Djokovic, the defending champion and current No. 1 player in the ATP rankings, didn’t display any false modesty when he was asked to evaluate his performance.
“As close to perfection as you can be,” Djokovic said. “In every part of my game I did almost my best. From the start of the match I tried to dictates the play on the court and be in control of the rallies. Of course, my serve was very efficient, very high percentage of first serves, a lot of aces, a lot of free points. That’s something that obviously gives you confidence when you’re playing at this level.”
Djokovic said he felt he needed a strong game after being taken to three sets by Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan on Thursday night.
“It’ a great feeling when you’re playing this well and you beat a quality player like Gasquet in straight sets in this fashion,” he said. “It’s definitely something that encourages me before the next one.”
The next one is against Nadal, who has shown no signs of rust after seven weeks off and a switch from his favoured clay courts to the hard courts. It’s rare for these two players to meet before the finals of a tournament but Djokovic said he planned to “focus, on what I need to do. For me it’s very important to try to start well tomorrow against whoever I play. You know, if I’m playing as well as I did today, I think I have a chance to really win against anybody on this court.”
Nadal won his only previous hard court event earlier this year at Indian Wells and hasn’t lost a set in his three matches here.
“He’s playing exceptional tennis,” Djokovic said. “Since he came back (in February) from a seven months’ absence, he won everything except one title. That says enough about his game and where he is at the moment.
Nadal has recurring knee problems which have limited his play on hard courts but he has looked healthy this week.
“He doesn’t show any signs of injury or something like that,”said Djokovic. ”I think he’s very motivated to play well, especially at these tournaments after (losing in the first round at) Wimbledon, because didn’t play these tournaments last year because of injury. Again, hard court is my most preferred surface. I feel that that’s maybe the place where I have more chances against him than on clay definitely. It’s going to be a huge challenge for both of us, but I’ll be ready for it.”
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