Novak Djokovic believes Ernests Gulbis could go on to become one of the world’s top players after recording a straight-sets victory over the Latvian to reach the semi-finals of the French Open.
The number three seed took his time to stamp his authority on a match that was hampered by blustery winds and a heavy downpour, but found the winners when it mattered to claim a 7-5 7-6 (7/3) 7-5 win in three hours and seven minutes.
Gulbis’ progress at Roland Garros has been one of the tournament’s highlights, and he showed the extent of his burgeoning talent with a number of deft drop-shots.
And Australian Open champion Djokovic feels his opponent has what it takes to reach the top.
“He certainly has the potential to be one of the best players in the world in the coming months or years,” he said.
“I knew that he was going to be aggressive and just go for the shots, so I was trying to be patient and just calm his game down a little bit.”
Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal in the last four after the Spaniard romped to a 6-1 6-1 6-1 win over compatriot Nicolas Almagro on Philippe Chatrier Court.
The second seed and reigning three-time champion, celebrating his 22nd birthday, has lost just 25 games in five matches since the start of the tournament, and remains the only competitor in the men’s draw who has not dropped a set.
Nadal’s semi-final opponent insisted though he could be the one to bring his French Open run to an end.
“It’s impressive, of course,” Djokovic said of Nadal’s performance.
“He’s been playing better and better. He has improved his serve a lot this year, especially on clay.
“He combines that with great physical strength and patience, and it’s impressive on this surface.
“But I don’t just want to go out there in the semis and try my best. I want to win, and I think I have a good chance.
“Of course, he’s the favourite, but only with a positive attitude and approach in the match can I get the positive outcome.”
Almagro, the 19th seed, appeared to freeze in his first grand slam quarter-final as the form which saw him beat Andy Murray and Jeremy Chardy deserted him.
He won just 52% of his first service points – the same number that Nadal won on his second.
And the Spaniard is under no illusions Djokovic will provide a far sterner test of his credentials.
“I know it’s going to be a difficult match,” Nadal said. “He is very good so far this year – he plays at a high level.
“If I am not playing at 100%, it is going to be very difficult for me to win this match.”