Paris: Novak Djokovic reached his 30th Grand Slam semi-final on Thursday but his quest for a first French Open title was almost scuppered by disqualification. Serena Williams kept alive her hopes of winning a 22nd Grand Slam title by fighting back from a set and a break down to defeat unheralded Yulia Putintseva in the quarterfinals. The top seed and defending champion defeated the world number 60 from Kazakhstan 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
In the semis, she will play Kiki Bertens, who became the first Dutchwoman in 45 years to reach the French Open semifinals on Thursday with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Swiss eighth seed Timea Bacsinszky. World number one Djokovic, a three-time runner-up and seeking a maiden Roland Garros crown to complete the career Grand Slam, defeated Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, claiming a place in an eighth French Open semifinal and sixth in succession.
But the 29-year-old Serb, who will face Dominic Thiem of Austria on Friday for a spot in the final, admitted he was lucky to escape being kicked out of the tournament in the second game of the third set. Frustrated at missing a break point, Djokovic went to smash his racquet into the ground but it slipped out of his grasp before it flew into the backwall on Philippe Chatrier Court. Had it hit the nearby line judge, who was forced to take evasive action, Djokovic would have been disqualified.
Not surprisingly, he offered a speedy apology to chair umpire Eva Asderaki Moore and escaped with a warning for racquet abuse. “I was lucky there,” admitted Djokovic. “I apologised to the people that have been in this particular situation with me and that could have been hurt by my racquet. “But, you know, it was never the intention. It was just some unfortunate bounce, but fortunate ending of that scenario. That’s all I can say.”
Thursday’s quarter-final was played out in a damp chill where temperatures nosedived to 12 degrees. But it didn’t stop the Serb from claiming a 24th win in 26 meetings against Berdych and his 11th in a row. Djokovic raced through the first set with breaks in the seventh and ninth games before stretching out to a 4-2 lead in the second. Berdych broke for the first time to get to 3-4 but Djokovic restored his advantage in the 12th game for a two sets lead. The two men exchanged breaks in the first two games of the third before Berdych became angry over the deteriorating conditions. On the resumption, Djokovic broke for 5-3 and took victory when Berdych dumped a service return into the net.