PARIS -- No. 2 Novak Djokovic holds off a strong charge from No. 18 Ernests Gulbis, winning 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 36 minutes to advance to the French Open final.
Djokovic cruised through the first two sets, denying Gulbis few opportunities to break into the match. The 25-year-old Latvian left the court at the end of the second set, and upon returning, he pushed Djokovic out of his comfort zone. Gulbis converted his first break of the match, and went on to win the third set.
The 2012 French Open finalist wasn't having any of it, and raced to an early break in the fourth set, but Gulbis answered with his second and final break of the match. Djokovic then refocused and shut down Gulbis, earning his 30th match win of the year. This will be his second trip to the final at Roland Garros and his 13th career Grand Slam final.
Djokovic created 10 break point chances, converting five, and smacked 30 winners to 25 unforced errors. On the other side of the net, Gulbis won only two break points in seven tries, but hit 40 winners to 44 unforced errors. But after his success in Paris, Gulbis will likely climb into the top 10 of the ATP rankings on Monday.
There's more than just his first French Open title on the line for Djokovic in the final. If he wins, he'll not only become the eighth man in tennis history to complete a career Grand Slam, but he'll also oust Rafael Nadal and return to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings.
Here are the highlights of the match:
Here's Djokovic's post-match press conference:
And here's Gulbis' post-match press conference:
Game-by-game analysis of Djokovic-Gulbis below.
9:47 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic defeats Ernests Gulbis 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to advance to his second French Open final.
Djokovic finally closes it out. Gulbis was bending throughout the set but he finally breaks. Djokovic breaks as the errors come quickly off the Gulbis racket and he serves it out to seal his spot in the final. Rather surprisingly, there's no huge celebration from Djokovic. How much of that is out of respect for Gulbis and how much was it because he expected this of himself?
Final match stats: Gulbis: 13 aces, serving at 57 percent, winning 54 percent of his second serve points, 2 for 7 on break points and 40 winners to 44 unforced errors.
Djokovic: 9 aces, serving at 67 percent, winning 43 percent of his second serve points, 5 for 10 on break points and 39 winners to 30 unforced errors.
During his on-court interview, Djokovic says he was feeling it physically today and that the conditions were tough. It wasn't that hot, but the players have been playing in very cool weather throughout the week, and it takes time to acclimatize to the heat they experienced today.
Watch as the crowd applauds the first French Open men's finalist.
9:38 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
Still think Djokovic will figure this set out and close it in four. He finally gets an easy service game to hold after Gulbis held at love.
9:31 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
Still not great tennis from either man but Gulbis is hitting big and that's keeping him in this set. If you're Djokovic you're putting every ball on the backhand side of Gulbis. That's where he's missing badly and wincing after swinging from that side.
9:25 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks and Gulbis breaks back, trails 2-1*.
So who had money on Djokovic breaking a racket before Gulbis in this match? As Gulbis is grabbing at his back and looks hindered on his backhand side, Djokovic earns a break and a 2-0 lead. But he gives it away with a slew of unforced errors and absolutely eviscerates a racket as he walks to the changeover.
9:13 a.m. ET | Ernests Gulbis takes the third set 6-3, trails Novak |Djokovic 6-3, 6-3, 3-6.
Gulbis finally -- finally -- breaks on his sixth break point of the match. You knew it was coming as Djokovic just had so many chances to really assert himself in this set and he failed to do so. Gulbis has played himself into this match. He's hitting bigger and cleaner and he's seeing the points better.
Gulbis serves it out and we're going four sets.
19 winners and just 5 unforced errors from Gulbis.
9:03 a.m. ET | Gulbis holds, leadas 4-3*.
Djokovic still not merciless. Builds a 40-love and then throws in a key double-fault. From there Gulbis reels off two points to get to deuce and earns his fourth break point of the match. Gulbis goes for glory, flinging himself into a backhand down the line attempt that lands in the net.
But a great point from Gulbis that he finishes by threading the needle with a forehand squash shot from outside the court earns him another break point. this time it's his forehand that fails him, going for the down the line forehand that he sprays wide.
On game point for Djokovic the Serb has a short backhand all lined up and he ticks the tape and it goes wide. Again, he lets Gulbis off the hook. This game is nearing on ten minutes.
Finally Djokovic is able to hold thanks to two great serves. Gulbis responds with a hold. I'm very surprised with how flat Djokovic has played this set. He's got a great killer instinct when he earns a lead and he's let off noticeably.
8:49 a.m. ET | Gulbis holds, leads 3-2*.
Gulbis gets to 30-all on the Djokovic serve but puts a forehand return into the net and Djokovic holds. It's those swing points that he's playing poorly. But Djokovic isn't putting his foot down to dominate this set. Too many loose points and errors lets Gulbis off the hook on his own service game. He holds.
8:40 a.m. ET | Gulbis holds, leads 2-1*.
Gulbis takes a bathroom break and comes out with a fresh shirt. Will the break help him? He comes out serving first and earns a clean hold.
Much like the first set, Gulbis earns an early break point and can't convert. It's well-saved by Djokovic and he holds.
8:26 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic wins the second set, leads 6-3, 6-3.
Another bad double-fault from Gulbis gives Djokovic a break point and he converts when Gulbis sends a ball long. This has been a very business-like performance from Djokovic. Gulbis isn't doing much to put him off.
Djokovic consolidates the break without incident to move to two sets to love. Not sure Gulbis has any answers right now. He's just not playing his best tennis.
Don't knock Ernests Gulbis for this performance. He's breathed life & humour into Roland Garros 2014. But @DjokerNole is just too good — Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) June 6, 2014
8:15 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
Easier holds for both men. Flat and casual tennis so far and the crowd isn't finding much to cheer about at the moment. But we'll see which man breaks this set open first.
8:11 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
Gulbis holds and in Djokovic's service game the two play an incredible point pulling each other wider and wider with sharp cross-court forehands. Gulbis is way outside the doubles alley and still goes for an impossibly sharp forehand that pulls Djokovic out to the courtside signage and he nets his forehand. That was straight out of an exhibition.
Gulbis gets a look at 0-30 but Djokovic wins the next four points to hold. Gulbis is on the verge of finding his A-game. But he's not quite there yet.
8:00 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
An exchange of holds by both men, but Gulbis is still not happy with the way he's hitting the ball. Smacking his racket strings and frustrated that he's just not been able to find the groove on his forehand.
7:54 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic wins the first set 6-3.
Easy hold for Djokovic as Gulbis is racking up the forehand errors. He keeps slapping at his strings and his footwork isn't good. He's just not on balance when he's hitting through his shots.
From 30-0, Gulbis loses the next three points. He double-faults to give Djokovic set point. Gulbis saves it with a heavy forehand and follows it up with an overhead smash.
He gives away a second break point/set point when he nets a forehand down the line. Did so well to set that point up but the forehand is really failing him down the line. He saves it with a big serve, which -- no, the chair umpire says it was long. But...Djokovic...concedes? He gives the point to Gulbis anyway. Is the Serb trying to earn some karma points?
Djokovic gets his third break point/set point and this time Gulbis can't save it. He hits a beautiful backhand short angle that spins outside the court but Djokovic hits a great lunging backhand down the line that surprises Gulbis and he puts the squash forehand into the net.
First set Djokovic.
7:43 a.m. ET | Gulbis holds, trails *4-3.
Easy hold for Djokovic to consolidate the break. Gulbis stares at his box with a look of both frustration and confusion. Had those two break points early and couldn't convert and he's trailing early.
Gulbis hits his 10th unforced error of the match with a forehand into the net to get to 30-all on his service game. Big serve earns a return miss and he has game point and he holds when Djokovic has an easy forehand down the line pass and he sprays it wide.
Ernie Gulbis will make his top 10 debut next week & consolidate his position as Latvia's number one in a blow to world no 665 Andis Juska — Russell Fuller (@russellcfuller) June 6, 2014</blockquote
7:36 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *3-2.
Two break points for Gulbis as he feathers a good drop shot from Djokovic down the line for a winner. Poor backhand miss on the first one and then sprays a backhand well wide on the second. Djokovic saves and holds. The man famous for his racket smashes slaps his strings angrily. Even for Ernests Gulbis, it's too early to be breaking rackets.
Gulbis ended that game with two poor unforced errors and he begins his next return game still in a slight rut, sending a bad forehand into the net. Sure enough, Djokovic earns a break point at 30-40 and Djokovic hits a short return on a second serve. Gulbis opts for the drop shot and Djokovic tracks it down easily but puts the backhand pass into the net. But Gulbis hands over another break point when he nets a backhand down the line.
INCREDIBLE POINT from both men and it's Gulbis who finishes it off with a huge forehand winner on the 17th shot of the rally. Great defense from both men.
But Gulbis gives away his third break point of the game with a double-fault. He saves it with a one-two punch after a monstrous serve down the tee and crushes the short ball for a winner. He then nets a regulation forehand to give Djokovic his fourth look at a break. Great return from Djokovic lands deep and Gulbis hits a forehand falling backwards and it lands long. Break to Djokovic. Here's that Gulbis forehand, in case you need to be reminded how ugly it is:
Just because! pic.twitter.com/6Y2C9N5XAu — Live Tennis (@livetennis) June 6, 2014
7:22 a.m. ET | Gulbis holds, leads 2-1*. Opening game and an easy love hold for Gulbis. Not a full crowd quite yet on Court Philippe Chatrier. I'm sure the French crowd is still finishing lunch. They do love their long lunches here in Paris.
Competition times: How big will Boris Becker's sunglasses be today? Large, huge or enormous? #excited — Not Roger Federer (@PseudoFed) June 6, 2014
It took Djokovic six points but he finally wins his first point at 15-30 and goes on to hold.
Two winning streaks on the line today. Djokovic won the Italian Open before Paris and is on a 10-match win streak. Gulbis won Nice the week before Paris and is on a nine-match win streak. The Latvian will make his top ten debut on Monday regardless of the outcome of this match. Djokovic could take over the No. 1 ranking depending on how things shake out over the next three days.
Gulbis falls behind 0-30 but wins the next four points. On serve as they head to the changeover.
Who you got, and how many sets? #RG14pic.twitter.com/Cw6NypA6mz — Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 6, 2014
7:12 a.m. ET | Warm-up
It's a bright and beautifully sunny day in Paris, hands-down the nicest day we've had this tournament. Both men are on court warming up, with Djokovic opting for his baby blue Uniqlo kit and Gulbis, looking again like he's a wandering vagrant, with his shaggy hair and beard and fairly standard black and white Adidas kit.
You have to think Gulbis is happy to see the warmer temperatures. He's the bigger hitter and the more aggressive of the two and the dry conditions should add some stick to his ball. As I wrote in my match preview, this is pure offense vs. defense so we'll have to see how Gulbis is feeling the ball today. No doubt he's confident, as always. But is he ready to pull off the big upset in his first Slam semifinal over the man who's been at this stage of a Slam 21 times?
Gulbis wins the toss and elects to serve.
No. 2 Novak Djokovic will meet No. 18 Ernests Gulbis in the semifinals of the French Open on Friday. The match, which Tennis Channel will televise, is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET. The winner will face No. 1 Rafael Nadal or No. 7 Andy Murray in Sunday's final.
Djokovic is in the semifinals for the 15th time in the last 16 Grand Slam tournaments. The 27-year-old Serb has dropped only one set in five matches during his run, which has included victories over No. 25 Marin Cilic, No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 8 Milos Raonic. Djokovic is two wins from completing the career Grand Slam with his first French Open title, and he will reclaim the No. 1 ranking on Monday unless Nadal wins the tournament for the ninth time.
Gulbis, on the other hand, is contesting his first major semifinal. Before this week, the 25-year-old Latvian hadn't been past the third round of a Grand Slam since reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in 2008. After upsetting No. 4 Roger Federer in a five-set fourth-round match, Gulbis dominated No. 6 Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. The resurgent Gulbis -- who was ranked No. 132 last February after a first-round loss at a Challenger event in Italy -- has 32 victories this season, second to Nadal's 38.
Djokovic has won four of five matches with Gulbis, including a quarterfinal victory at the 2008 French Open, but the two haven't played since 2011.
"For me, it's 0-0 with him in matches," Gulbis said. "The way I'm playing now, I never played like this [before]. I never felt like this. What was in the past I don't even consider." Ernests Gulbis finally earning his spot in the main press conference room