Second-seeded Novak Djokovic swept past unseeded Frenchman Julien Benneteau on Friday to set up a semi-final showdown with American John Isner at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
Djokovic, a two-time champion in the California desert, needed just 68 minutes to power past Benneteau 6-1, 6-3.
The world No 2 didn’t face a break point in the match, but had the chance to break Benneteau in all but the first of the Frenchman’s service games.
“I have done everything I wanted,” said Djokovic, who had been taken to three sets by his two previous opponents, Marin Cilic and Alejandro Gonzalez.
Against Gulbis, Isner saved a set point in the final game of the opening set to force a tiebreaker, then recovered an early second-set break en route to a 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3) victory.
The 12th-seeded American fired 13 aces, while Gulbis’s seven aces were matched by seven double faults.
Isner, whose towering 2.08m height contributes to his fearsome serve, seized a 5-3 lead in the second set tiebreaker with an ace, then followed it up with a 141 mph (226.92 Km/h) service winner before firing a backhand winner past Gulbis on his first match point.
“I certainly hit my biggest serves in those tiebreakers,” Isner said. “I think especially the second set one I was going after it with everything I had.
“They found their mark, too – helped a lot.”
Isner defeated then-No 1 Djokovic in the semi-finals here in 2012 before falling to Roger Federer in the final.
Isner also beat Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati Masters last year.
Those are his only two wins over the Serbian in six career meetings, but Djokovic said it was always a tough matchup.
“He’s definitely not somebody you like to play in the big heat with such serve,” said Djokovic, who will do just that on Saturday.
“It’s very challenging because he doesn’t miss his serve too much, so you have to kind of be able to hold your composure from the first to the last point and be ready to play three tiebreaks.”
Against 32-year-old Benneteau, who was playing in just the second Masters level quarter-final of his career, Djokovic was pleased with his intensity from start to finish.
“First few matches I played good tennis, but I had some ups and downs. Today was very stable from the first to the last point.”
Djokovic lifted the Indian Wells trophy in 2008 and 2011. But he arrived here this year in the unfamiliar position of not having even reached a final in two tournaments this year.
“That is a different feel,” Djokovic said. “So of course it’s important for me to do well. I’m on the right path.”
Isner opened the season by lifting the title in Auckland, but suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the Australian Open.
He found Djokovic’s victory over Benneteau “impressive” and said that even though the six-time Grand Slam champion “hasn’t had his typical Djokovic results” this year, he’d be tough to beat.
“But I believe I can win,” Isner said. “I have done it against this guy before on this court right here in this exact same situation two years ago.”
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