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Spain's Rafael Nadal returns against Japan's Kei Nishikori in their fourth round match at the French Open tennis tournament, at Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday June 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
French Open semifinal showdown: Nadal vs Djokovic
Tennis » Nadal may become first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event.
First Published Jun 06 2013 08:58 am • Last Updated Jun 12 2013 07:21 pm

Paris • Rafael Nadal groused last week that he was playing so badly he might soon be home fishing in Mallorca.

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Then came a transformation.

Nadal stood at the net following his latest French Open win wearing that familiar crooked grin, clay caked on his arm, his leg and even the back of his shirt, landlocked and loving it.

The fish were spared, and Nadal has lately enjoyed smooth sailing at Roland Garros heading into his semifinal showdown Friday against top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

After falling behind in each of his first three matches, Nadal has won 12 consecutive sets. He’s 57-1 at Roland Garros and on the verge of becoming the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event.

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"I really am playing better here," he said. "I said I needed to make a change. I was confident that I can do it, and I did."

And so he’s ready to renew his rivalry with Djokovic. The winner will play for the title Sunday against No. 4-seeded David Ferrer or No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who meet in the other semifinal.

Tsonga’s trying to become the first Frenchman since Yannick Noah in 1983 to win Roland Garros, and partisan Parisians might consider his match the main event Friday. But Nadal vs. Djokovic has the feel of a final, and it’s a match much anticipated since the draw was announced two weeks ago.

Because Nadal’s ranking slipped during a recent injury layoff, he and Djokovic wound up in the same half of that draw. As a result, they’ll meet before the final at a major event for the first time in five years.

While tennis players are known to complain, neither Nadal nor Djokovic seems to mind meeting in the semifinals.

"I don’t want to talk about what if," Djokovic said. "It’s going to be a good match."

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