Djokovic and Federer narrowly avoid last tango in Paris
PARIS - Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer danced with danger at the French Open on Tuesday but there was to be no last tango in Paris as both emerged victorious to set up a repeat of last year's semi-final.
World number one Djokovic displayed an iron will as he crossed a chasm of adversity to save four match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to keep alive his dream of holding all four grand slam titles at the same time.
The Serb eventually prevailed 6-1 5-7 5-7 7-6 6-1 and it was a similarly happy ending for Federer who recovered from two sets down to oust Argentine firecracker Juan Martin del Potro 3-6 6-7 6-2 6-0 6-3.
The women's draw unfurled without the drama and intensity of the men's as sixth seed Sam Stosur put out Slovak Dominika Cibulkova 6-4 6-1 to set up a semi-final encounter with unfancied Italian Sara Errani who upset German Angelique Kerber 6-3 7-6.
A guttural roar that could be heard halfway up the Eiffel Tower echoed around the hostile Philippe Chatrier court as Djokovic finally dispatched his fired-up French opponent.
He had to overcome a turbo-charged Tsonga whose every shot was cheered by a baying French crowd in a visceral on-court atmosphere.
"As a tennis player this is what you live for," Djokovic told reporters. "This is what you practice for all these years, to be part of an incredible performance, incredible match encounter here in Roland Garros."
It was a similar tale for Federer who, at two sets down, was sinking under a barrage of baseline cannonfire from Del Potro.
The Swiss 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.
That was the last time Djokovic was beaten in a major but the Serb has looked far from his best at Roland Garros.
Djokovic has been taken to five sets by his last two opponents after Italian Andreas Seppi pushed him hard in the fourth round.
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.
"It's helpful if you've won the last three, four, five, maybe," Federer said. "It helps to win one like he did in Italy."
A "man's game" helped propel Stosur past Cibulkova while Errani, her petite opponent in the next round, needed a more delicate touch to beat Kerber.
Stosur's high-kicking serve and ferocious top-spin groundstrokes bamboozled the 15th seed to such an extent that she resorted to a most unflattering description of the Australian.
"She played like a man," said Cibulkova. "It's really hard to play against a man."
Waiting for Stosur in the semi-finals is the slightly-built Errani who, at 1.64 meters tall, lacks the physical stature of many of the top women performers.
"I don't have too much power so I have to think more," Errani said after relying on her wiles to overcome the 10th seed from Germany.
Whether or not her cerebral approach will be enough to beat Stosur, who has powered through without dropping a set, remains to be seen.
The Australian, who won the US Open in 2011, has a 5-0 record against Errani and is playing in the semi-finals at Roland Garros for the third time in four years.
The shoulder-high bounce she generated on her serve to such good effect against Cibulkova, the shortest player in the top 100, could prove a problem for Errani who has lost all five of their previous encounters.
The pair have only met once on clay and, with a 23-3 record this year on the red dust, Errani can rightly claim to be an altogether more fearsome opponent here than elsewhere.
Stosur, who lost to Errani's compatriot Francesca Schiavone in the 2010 final, is unlikely to underestimate the threat posed by the number 21 seed who has already eliminated former champions Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"She's going to be tough," said Stosur. "She's not very tall but it doesn't mean it will be easy. She's played very well to get to this point so you have to be ready."
It was Stosur's unique playing style that outfoxed Cibulkova in the early afternoon sun on Philippe Chatrier Court.
The kick-serve wide to force her opponent off court was regularly followed by the cross-court winner while her composure in staving off nine out of 10 break points helped her edge a close first set and stroll away with the second.
It was an altogether more complicated affair for Errani who despite winning in straight sets showed ample vulnerability as both her and Kerber struggled to hold serve.
The Italian cried out in celebration after edging a bizarre second set that featured six successive breaks and eight in total.