NOVAK DJOKOVIC had played his heart out for more than four hours, survived four match points in a five-set battle and had just set up a dream French Open semi-final with Roger Federer.
With sweat still dripping off his face, the Serb waited expectantly to be quizzed about his near escape against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or even about facing off with Federer.
Except the first question Djokovic was bombarded with at the post match news conference after such a Herculean effort was: “It has been confirmed that you are going to do an exhibition match in Brazil in November. Are you excited about it? Have you ever come to Brazil?”
Djokovic, who is gunning to become the first man in 43 years to hold all four grand slam titles at once, answered politely.
“Well, yes, now that ...it’s confirmed... it’s the first time I can talk about it... I’m really excited because I have never been in Brazil,” he said.
Djokovic’s focus, however, was still in Paris when he saved four match points in the fourth set to beat French fifth seed Tsonga 6-1 5-7 5-7 7-6 6-1.
“There is really not any rational explanation or a word that can describe what you’re supposed to do when you’re match points down or when you’re losing and you’re very close to losing the match,” he said.
“It’s, I guess, trying to be mentally tough and believing in your shots. Obviously a little bit of experience that I had playing on this level for the last five, six years.
“So I don’t want to be wise now and say, okay, I know how to play when I’m match points down. Because as |I said, there is no explanation.”
Djokovic, who stretched his grand slam winning streak to 26 matches, will now face Swiss third seed |Federer for a place in Sunday’s final.
The showdown will be a rematch on last year’s epic semi-final, which Federer won 7-6 6-3 3-6 7-6.
“Another great semi-final. I don’t want to talk too much about Roger. We all know his quality and can always expect him to perform his best at this stage of the tournament,” said Djokovic.
“He came back from two sets down today. We both played tough matches in last two rounds. Now we’re going to have two days off and expect an exciting semi-final.
“Last year we were part of a great match that went the distance, and he played incredibly well. I thought I played at a very high level.”
To reach his maiden French Open final, Djokovic will need to produce the kind of play that made Tsonga look like a junior in the first set yesterday. “I think it’s crucial to be very focused and aggressive from the first moment,” he said.
“Because that’s something you can always expect from Roger: he can have that control over the opponent from the start. I will try to be out there believing I can win.”
Federer’s last-eight clash was a similar tale to Djokovic’s since it was a battle against adversity as the Swiss, at two sets down, was sinking under a barrage of baseline cannonfire from Juan Martin del Potro.
Federer stared into the abyss before then making the most of his opponent’s fragile mindset and suspect knee.
Del Potro received painkillers at 5-0 down in the third set and had his aching joint restrapped but he could not stop Federer romping away to ensure a repeat of last year’s semi-final when the 16-times grand slam winner triumphed in four sets.
The world number one, however, has the advantage of having beaten Federer in their last two outings including a claycourt semi-final at the Rome Masters in May.