The defending champions are through to the semifinals at the 2013 French Open, with Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova punching their tickets, albeit in vastly different manners. Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka got through with relative ease and will try to unseat the champs in the semifinals later this week.
Sharapova got the day started with an absolutely nightmarish first set against 18th-seeded Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic won the set, 6-0, matching Sharapova's power and taking advantage of the Russian second-seed's multitude of missteps. Sharapova committed an unbelievable 20 unforced errors in just six games, making it relatively simple for Jankovic to break three times.
The tide turned completely in the second set, with Sharapova immediately looking like a better player, breaking Jankovic right off the bat and taking a commanding lead. Jankovic battled back but fell in the set, 4-6. The two players looked evenly matched in the third and decisive set, trading powerful ground strokes as Sharapova's grunts of effort grew louder by the game. They played to 3-3 before Sharapova got a critical break, held serve and crushed Jankovic's spirit in the final game.
Nadal had a much easier time of it in his quarterfinal against No. 9 seed Stanislas Wawrinka. Wawrinka has been dealing with a leg injury for more than a month and, although he gamely battled to hold serve against history's greatest clay court player for much of the first two sets, he couldn't do anything on the return. Nadal easily dispatched the Swiss in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.
Nadal slogged his way through the first week at Roland Garros, but as the weather has cleared and warmed, so has Nadal. Friday, the day of the men's semifinals, is supposed to be the hottest day of the fortnight yet, and Nadal loves the heat. He's hitting his stride at the perfect time for an unthinkable eighth French title.
Standing in his way will be Djokovic, who turned back 35-year-old 12-seed Tommy Haas in the day's other quarterfinal, also in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5. Haas had a terrific chance to even the match at one set apiece, getting a couple of mini-breaks on Djokovic during the second-set tiebreaker, but the world's No. 1 player ramped up his game on the long volleys and closed out the tiebreaker with three straight points. The third set, Haas didn't lose composure, but Djokovic was simply too locked in to be beat.
In the fourth and final singles match of the day, third-seeded Victoria Azarenka put an end to Alexander Ovechkin's Parisian holiday, knocking out Ovi's fiancée, 12th-seeded Maria Kirilenko, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2. It's Azarenka's first career Roland Garros semifinal. The two-time Australian Open champ is looking in peak form, showing absolutely no holes in her game, making the straight-sets victory over an impressive Kirilenko look downright clinical.
Sharapova and Azarenka in the semifinals Thursday should make for terrific theater and should be a much more even match than Serena Williams and Sara Errani on the other side of the draw.