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French Open

Nadal celebrates birthday with semi slot

  • Story Highlights
  • Rafael Nadal celebrates 22nd birthday by reaching French Open semifinals
  • Spaniard crushed compatriot Nicolas Almagro 6-1 6-1 6-1 at Roland Garros
  • Nadal plays Novak Djokovic who beat Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-5 7-6 7-5
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PARIS, France -- Holder Rafael Nadal celebrated his 22nd birthday on Tuesday by crushing compatriot Nicolas Almagro to set-up a French Open semifinal clash against Novak Djokovic.

Nadal triumphed 6-1 6-1 6-1 to move within two wins of joining Bjorn Borg as the only man to win four successive Roland Garros titles.

Third seed Djokovic saw off boyhood friend Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-5 7-6 (3) 7-5 to reach a fifth consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.

He joins Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker as the only men to accomplish the feat in the Open era.

Nadal is 26-0 at Roland Garros and has yet to concede a set in the 2008 tournament.

"I had expected a tougher match than that to be honest," he said of his 19th seeded rival."I still hope to play better in the next round against Djokovic. It will likely be harder."

Australian Open champion Djokovic and Gulbis first trained together as youngsters at the Munich academy owned by former Germany and Croatia Davis Cup coach Niki Pilic and have remained firm friends.

With a little more composure, 19-year-old Gulbis, bidding to become the first Latvian to reach a Grand Slam semifinal, could have pulled off a famous win, but his 60 unforced errors and seven double faults told a sorry story.

"We know each other well from being at the same academy and have been friends for a long time," said Djokovic who was beaten by Nadal in the semifinal in 2007.

"He's had a great tournament and I'm happy to see him doing so well."

Djokovic failed to convert his first 11 break-point chances. He came through on the 12th to end the first set, thanks to an unforced error by world No. 80 Gulbis -- then raised his arms in mock triumph.

Djokovic continued to struggle in the second set, falling behind 3-1 as Gulbis showed his first Grand Slam quarterfinal berth was no fluke.

The Serbian world No. 3 then began to strike the ball more crisply and consistently and in the tiebreaker he took the lead for good by hitting an ace and winning a 19-shot rally on the first two points.

In the third set he won eight of the final nine points to close out the victory and then gave Gulbis a pat on the chest as both smiled.

The remaining quarterfinals take place on Wednesday with top seed Roger Federer facing Chile's Fernando Gonzalez and Spanish fifth seed David Ferrer tackling the sole remaining French hope Gael Monfils.

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