(1)Novak Djokovic d. Jarkko Nieminen 6-4, 6-3 [1:17 h]
Djokovic’s movement improved comparing to previous rounds, however, he found himself again in a position to lose the 1st set. Nieminen established a 2:0 lead having won a very important first 10-minute game consisted of 6 deuces. He couldn’t capitalize though. Djokovic’s backhand was flawless through set and a half (no errors from that side in the first 40 minutes of play). It’s too tough for the Finn, who bases his game-style rather on retrieving, when he needs to dictate the pace he becomes vulnerable from the back of the court. The Serb was in command from *3:4 to the end of the contest with a little hiccup leading 5:1 (30-all) in the 2nd set. “It was great,” said Djokovic. “Played with the right intensity from the start of the match till the end. That’s a big step forward for me today comparing to the first two matches in every sense. I finally got a great feel on the clay. Hopefully I can maintain that level tomorrow.”
Fognini seems to me someone like Hicham Arazi for the generation of players born in the 70s. The Italian is able to play an inspired tennis when he’s an underdog and the arena he enters is big. Despite he hasn’t won an ATP title yet, two years after reaching quarterfinals at Roland Garros, he advances to semifinals of a Masters 1000 event. In his two previous matches against Gasquet he was destroyed, probably drew conclusions from those defeats and started third quarterfinal hitting the ball harder than ever. It worked because it gave him a break point at 3:1. Gasquet saved the break point, broke back and had a set point leading 5:4 – Fognini fought it off with a backhand volley. The Italian won 11 points in a row from 5:6. The 2nd set was equal until 2-all, since then Fognini took the momentum and obtained four straight games with a relative ease. “I played another time I think a really good match with a fantastic player,” said Fognini. “I mean, he is Top 10 and has won so many tournaments. Now I just have to say I’m really happy. It’s my first semi-final in Monte Carlo, my home. I’m so happy.”
(3)Rafael Nadal d. Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 [2:08 h]
This match almost turned into a total shocker. Nadal won the opener easily and it was impossible to think that Dimitrov would be as close to beat Rafa as no-one before during Nadal’s phenomenal streak of wins in Monte Carlo. In the 2nd set, the Bulgarian played more open tennis from his backhand side, instead of usual slices he was intelligently mixing the pace, the serve was working well (it helped him twice to come back from 0/30), and unexpectedly he got five games in a row, and led 30/15 on Nadal’s opening service game of the 3rd set. Later on, Dimitrov led 4:3* (30-all) which meant he was six points from unbelievable victory. Nadal in his 45-match winning streak in Monaco similarly close was only once – eight years ago 9 points away from loss in two different sets against Gasquet. The Spaniard reminded that he’s a great champion and increased his level in the last three games, Dimitrov fought bravely in the final game, but suffered cramps and the Spaniard finished the contest with an ace. Nadal praised Dimitrov afterwards: “[At 21] he has time. He has time to have a great career… It’s not like golf, [when] you have 20 or 25-year career. Here our sport is more aggressive for the body, so we aren’t that lucky. He still has time and he is doing very well. I saw him play very well in Indian Wells and Miami. He did well here.”
They played for the fourth time against each other, every time in France, and every time it went to the distance. Wawrinka was full of confidence after trashing Montanes (6-1 6-1) and Murray (6-1 6-2) and took the first set quickly. Who knows, maybe it would have been another comfortable 2-setter if the Swiss had converted a break point in the opening game of the 2nd set – he failed and Tsonga found a way to force his opponent to bigger effort. Tsonga broke in the 4th game of the 2nd set in consequence of Wawrinka’s misery, broke also once in the decider and those two breaks of serve gave him a valuable victory – he moves through to the Masters 1000 semifinals on clay for the first time.