They’re Both in Form
There is some shared history between the two at the junior level, and Novak Djokovic leads their head-to-head 4-1. Nole and Ernests Gulbis have not played since 2011 so I think their head-to-head is largely meaningless. Gulbis is playing the best tennis of his career. He’s won 2 clay court titles in 2014 and is riding a 9 match winning streak on the dirt. Novak Djokovic just won the Masters Rome title and is in the middle of a 10 match winning streak on clay. Gulbis took out 2009 champion Roger Federer in 5 sets and then thrashed Tomas Berdych. Nole dropped 1 set to Marin Cilic but has been clinical in his advancement in Paris.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have the two best two-handed backhands among top 10 players. Gulbis’ coach has been preaching that his charge’s backhand is every bit as deadly. Oddly, the man aiming for his 9th (!) title at Roland Garros likely has the least imposing backhand of the four semifinalists. For fans who like two-fisted shots, this semifinal should be an instant classic.
Novak’s Return Will Be the Difference
Gulbis likely has a better serve than Nole. Novak’s forehand and overall movement are likely better than that of Gulbis. The thing the world number two has in his favor in every match is his return of serve. It is the best in the game. Over a three out of five set match I think that gives Novak time to figure out and breakdown Gulbis’ game. I look at this match a lot like Novak’s 2011 Wimbledon semifinal with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Nole is facing a dangerous opponent with history dangling in front of him. He handled that semifinal in 2011, and I predict he will handle this setting up the most anticipated Grand Slam final since Wimbledon 2008.
Prediction: Novak Djokovic d. Ernests Gulbis 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4