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.
Rafael Nadal remained on course for a record 21st grand slam title and a 14th at the French Open after overcoming Diego Schwartzman in an intense quarter-final earlier 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 2 hours 45 minutes in front of 5,000 spectators.
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 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.