Paris:Five rounds into the French Open, king of clay Rafael Nadal still awaits a serious challenge and Novak Djokovic hopes to provide it in the semifinals.
Three-time defending champion Nadal matched the most lopsided Grand Slam victory of his career on Tuesday, defeating fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 6-1, 6-1. The drubbing equaled the standard Nadal set in his previous victory, when he lost three games against another Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco.
Nadal was giving the center-court crowd a thumbs-up signal following his triumph shortly after Djokovic completed a much more arduous win on Court Suzanne Lenglen. He needed more than three hours to eliminate childhood friend Ernests Gulbis 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-5.
The No. 3-seeded Djokovic will face No. 2 Nadal on Friday.
"Of course he's a favorite," Djokovic said. "But I don't want to go out there in the semis and just try my best. I want to win."
For the winner, No. 1 Roger Federer looms as a potential opponent in the final.
Nadal is 26-0 at Roland Garros, but Djokovic is making his mark in the record book, too. The Australian Open champion has reached five consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, joining Federer, Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker as the only men to accomplish the feat in the 40-year Open era.
"He plays at a very high level," Nadal said, "but I also play well."
With less fanfare, No. 2-seeded Ana Ivanovic and No. 3 Jelena Jankovic advanced and will meet in the women's semifinals on Thursday. Ivanovic beat Patty Schnyder 6-3, 6-2, and Jankovic defeated unseeded Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-2.
Nadal celebrated his 22nd birthday with nearly flawless tennis, committing only nine unforced errors. He denied his matches are as stress-free as he makes them appear.
"I have the same pressure like everybody," he said. "I feel nervous before the match always. The result was calm, but the feeling was not."
Nadal lost the first game, then won nine in a row _ a streak rivaling his previous match, when he swept 10 in a row. The latest rout was especially striking because the No. 19-seeded Almagro is no slouch on clay, with a tour-high 29 victories on the surface this season.
It was only the third time a man has lost fewer than four games in a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open era. It was a record for that era at the French Open.
"Impressive," Djokovic said. "He has been playing better and better."
Djokovic's match was much more competitive, largely because he failed to convert his first 11 break-point chances. He came through on the 12th to end the first set, thanks to an unforced error by Gulbis, then raised his arms in mock triumph.
Djokovic continued to struggle in the second set, falling behind 3-1, and then began to strike the ball more crisply and consistently. In the tiebreaker he took the lead for good by hitting an ace and winning a 19-shot rally on the first two points, and in the third set he won eight of the final nine points to close out the victory.
"I tried to play a bit more patient and more safe in certain moments," Djokovic said. "But this is not going to be the case in the next match."
The 19-year-old Gulbis showed his first Grand Slam quarterfinal berth was no fluke, displaying a mix of power and finesse that kept Djokovic off balance. The two practiced together as youngsters at a German tennis academy, and when their match ended, Djokovic gave Gulbis a pat on the chest as both smiled.
"If somebody would tell us when we were 12 or 13 when we were practicing that we would play on Suzanne Lenglen in a quarterfinal, I wouldn't believe it," Gulbis said. "But I'm still younger, so I think today he won with experience."
The No. 2-seeded Ivanovic struggled against the 10th-seeded Schnyder only when trying to close out the victory. With light rain beginning to fall, she hit her second and third double-faults of the match in the final game before smacking a service winner on the third match point.
"I started to rush," Ivanovic said. "I was happy to calm down and still win the game."
Ivanovic has reached the semifinals at four of the past five Grand Slam tournaments, starting with her run at the French Open a year ago, when she lost to Justine Henin in the final.
"I am really happy the way I'm playing," said Ivanovic, who has yet to lose a set in five matches. "I just want to keep this level."
Svetlana Kuznetsova advanced to the quarterfinals for the third year in a row by completing a victory over Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 6-3. Kuznetsova's opponent on Wednesday will be Kaia Kanepi, who became the first Estonian to reach the quarterfinals at a major tournament by beating Petra Kvitova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
Kanepi and Kuznetsova won matches suspended on Monday because of darkness.
In an all-Russian quarterfinal on Wednesday, No. 7-seeded Elena Dementieva will play No. 13 Dinara Safina. Federer will face No. 24 Fernando Gonzalez in the men's quarterfinals, and No. 5 David Ferrer will meet unseeded Gael Monfils, the only French player remaining.