Not the final, but still a showdown for Nadal, Djokovic

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Not the final, but still a showdown for Nadal, Djokovic

PARIS - The French Open showdown between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic might lack some sizzle because it’s a semifinal and not the final.

Still, they both have more than enough motivation to make the match a memorable one.

Seven-time champion Nadal vs. No. 1-ranked Djokovic carries the heft of a final, even if both players need two more victories to claim the championship. Nadal bids to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event, while Djokovic seeks the only major title he has yet to win for a career Grand Slam.

One of them will go away disappointed Friday, when they meet for the 35th time. Both are mindful of the match as only the means to an end.

“If you win, you didn’t win anything yet,” Nadal said. “It’s not the final; it’s the semifinals. You are not playing a match for a title. You are just playing a match to be in the final. So it’s a big difference.”

For partisan Parisians, Nadal-Djokovic might not even qualify as the main attraction. Popular Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is trying to become the first Frenchman in 30 years to win the Roland Garros title, and he’ll play Spaniard David Ferrer in the other semifinal.

All four semifinalists advanced in straight sets, the first time that’s happened at the French Open since 1948. Nadal swept Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, and less than 10 minutes later, Djokovic closed out his victory over 35-year-old Tommy Haas, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 7-5.

Defending champion Maria Sharapova was scheduled to face two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka in the women’s semifinals Thursday, followed by No. 1 Serena Williams against 2012 runner-up Sara Errani.

Sharapova needed a comeback unlike any other in her career to reach the final four, rallying past Jelena Jankovic, 0-6, 6-4, 6-3. It was Sharapova’s first win after losing an opening set, 6-0.

Azarenka reached her first Roland Garros semifinal by beating Maria Kirilenko, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

Nadal’s ranking slipped during a seven-month layoff because of a knee injury, and as a result, he and Djokovic wound up in the same half of the draw. That’s why they’ll meet before the final at a major event for the first time since 2008.

Nadal leads Djokovic, 19-15, but lost their most recent meeting in the Monte Carlo final on clay in April. Nadal has a 6-3 advantage in Grand Slam meetings, including 4-0 at the French Open, and he won when they met in last year’s final at Roland Garros.

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