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Novak Djokovic rallies to reach French Open semis

The first obvious sign of trouble for Novak Djokovic came when he stepped out into Court Philippe Chatrier with a rather large square of beige athletic tape on the back of his neck.

The next indication came on the first point of his French Open quarterfinal versus Pablo Carreno Busta, when Djokovic let a ball toss drop and abandoned his serve mid-motion. Soon enough, Djokovic was flexing and stretching his left arm or hitting it with his racket.

Off to a slow start Wednesday night, Djokovic received massages from a trainer, righted himself and defeated Carreno Busta 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros for the 10th time.

“I definitely didn’t feel great coming into the court today. A few things happened in the warm-up,” the No. 1-ranked Djokovic stated, without going into specifics.

“I had some neck issues and some shoulder issues. I’ll just say that. I mean, I don’t want to get really too much into it. Obviously I’m still in the tournament, so I don’t want to reveal too much. I’m feeling OK,” said Djokovic, who will face No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Friday’s semifinals. “As the match progressed, I warmed up my body, and the pain kind of faded away. It allowed me to play better and better and feel better.”

He is right-handed, but the left side is important, too.

He uses it for his two-fisted backhand and to throw the ball in the air on serves. Whatever impediment there was to his play, whatever the pain level might have been, the issue was, at the very least, a distraction.

Carreno Busta, for his part, had at least a bit of doubt about what was going on.

“Maybe it’s the pressure or something. … I mean, he continues playing normal, no?” the 17th-seeded Spaniard said. “I don’t know if he’s (in) pain really. … Ask him.”

This was a rematch from the US Open last month, when Djokovic was defaulted for inadvertently hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball he smacked in anger. That went into the books as a loss and remains the only blemish on Djokovic’s 36-1 record in 2020.

“I’m over it,” he said. “I’m not thinking about it at all. I mean, zero percent.” Djokovic does seem to have moved past that episode, winning all 10 matches he’s played since.

He hadn’t ceded a set at Roland Garros until Wednesday. Now he’ll get a day to recover as he seeks a second title in Paris and 18th Grand Slam trophy.

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