MONACO (AP) — Winning a game against Novak Djokovic these days is quite an achievement. Even when you’re an U.S. Open champion.
Djokovic won the first eight games of his Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinal match Friday before Marin Cilic managed to hold his serve, raising a thumb in the air to celebrate.
The momentum change was short-lived, though, with the top-ranked Djokovic powering his way into the semifinals with a 6-0, 6-3 victory.
“Just all in all it was probably the best match I’ve played so far in the tournament,” Djokovic said. “That’s what I want, what I wish for in this moment.”
The Serb, who has dropped only 12 games at the Country Club, extended his unbeaten record over his Croatian rival to 12 matches in another display of solid tennis.
Djokovic, who ended Rafael Nadal’s reign in Monte Carlo when he won the clay-court Masters tournament in 2013, will next face the Spaniard in a match he sees as “probably the biggest clay-court challenge you can have.”
It will be their 43rd career meeting, the first since Nadal beat Djokovic in last year’s French Open final.
“I’ve got to prepare myself mentally for that,” Djokovic said. “Other than the mental part, I think physically I’m ready. I’m going to need to keep the high level of performance throughout the entire match tomorrow.”
Nadal, an eight-time champion at the Country Club, had to battle for nearly 3 hours before securing a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 victory over David Ferrer, who beat him in the quarterfinals last year.
“This is an important win for the future,” Nadal said.
Djokovic and Nadal have been going in opposite directions this season, as Nadal dropped to fifth in the world rankings following a string of poor results on hard court. Back on his favorite surface, he passed a significant test against Ferrer, a fellow clay specialist.
The eighth-seeded Cilic did not go without a fight against Djokovic and saved two match points in the final game but could not hold as Djokovic closed out the match in just over an hour.
Djokovic is off to his best start since 2011. He has lost only two matches in 2015 and is bidding to win a third Masters title in a row this year following victories in Indian Wells and Miami.
“I like the way I’m playing right now,” Djokovic said. “I’m trying to impose all the variety in the game that I have.”
Earlier, Tomas Berdych advanced to the semifinals for the third time after Milos Raonic retired with a foot injury. He will face Gael Monfils, who followed up his convincing win over Federer in the previous round with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over ninth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov.
Raonic called a trainer after dropping serve for the second time to trail 5-2 in the first set. Following a short discussion with the doctor, who had a close look at his strapped right foot, the big-serving Canadian went to see Berdych on the other side of the court to inform him of his decision to give up.
Berdych is chasing a second Masters title, 10 years after he made his breakthrough at the Paris Masters.
“If you look at the last 10 years, you’re going to find three guys that pretty much took all of them,” Berdych said about the tall order of winning titles in an era dominated by Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer. “They are taking all from us. Usually you’ve got at least two or three of these guys to win the title. Here it’s a bit more open in that sense.”
Monfils has a poor 1-5 record against Berdych but managed to beat him on clay at the French Open two years ago.
“I must find the right tactics to neutralize his game because he gives me a lot of trouble,” Monfils said. “I’m never able to control him.”
Monfils decided to play at the last minute this week after shaking off a right hip injury with acupuncture treatment sooner than expected. He made the most of his wild card as he progressed to the semifinals for the first time.
The Frenchman got off to a strong start and dictated from the baseline to convert his three break points in a 24-minute opening set. Dimitrov was better at the start of the second set but Monfils fended off two break point in the third game with consecutive winning serves, then held after a superb rally punctuated by a cross-court winner just behind the net.
Monfils then broke for a 3-1 lead and sealed his win after Dimitrov could not return a forehand attack.
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