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Djokovic and Nadal on course to meet in Paris Masters final

PARIS (AP) — Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Rafael Nadal remain on course to face off in the Paris Masters final, a 55th match in their intense rivalry, after winning their quarterfinals in straight sets on Friday.

Djokovic demolished seventh-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-2 after losing to the Greek three weeks ago in the Shanghai quarterfinals. It could have been even quicker since he led the first set 5-0, 40-0, but Tsitsipas saved three set points and held serve.

Nadal had a more demanding contest against 2008 champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, with the first set tiebreak reaching 3-3 after Nadal double faulted. But when the veteran Spaniard broke the unseeded Frenchman at the start of the second he took control in a 7-6 (4), 6-1 win.

"It was a tough first set where I had to play at a very high level," Nadal said after beating Tsonga for the 10th time in 14 meetings. Nadal and Djokovic are vying for the year-end No. 1 ranking. Nadal will guarantee it for the fifth time if he wins the Paris Masters for the first time, while Djokovic is chasing a fifth title at Bercy Arena and a sixth year-end finish as No. 1.

Iin Saturday's semifinals, he takes on Grigor Dimitrov while Nadal plays Denis Shapovalov. Nadal is 1-1 in career meetings with the Canadian, while Djokovic has an 8-1 lead over the U.S. Open semifinalist Dimitrov.

Djokovic, chasing a 77th career title, even impressed himself with the level of his performance. "I played one of the best matches of the season. I prepared myself very well for this match. I lost to Stefanos in Shanghai and obviously I went through the videos, understanding what I did well, what I didn't do so well," Djokovic said. "I served well. I read his serve very well, as well. Put him under pressure constantly."

He broke Tsitsipas in the third game of the second set, then held and broke to love for 4-1. Tsitsipas, who dropped his serve four times, appeared to hurt his left ankle when retrieving a shot near the baseline in the second set.

Serving for the match, Djokovic clinched it on his first match point when Tsitsipas whipped a forehand long following a short rally. Djokovic, last year's runner-up, is wary of Dimitrov, who beat Roger Federer in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. Although Dimitrov has won only eight career titles — and none since the ATP Finals in 2017 for his biggest prize — Djokovic talked him up.

"He has been one of the best talents we had in the sport in the last decade for sure. There's been a lot of comparison with his game and Federer's game," Djokovic said. "Since the U.S. Open he's playing at a different level, a high level. He always had the game; it's just sometimes it's a matter of things coming together, really, mentally and at the right time."

Djokovic also noted that Dimitrov, who is set to break back into the top 20 rankings next week after plummeting to No. 78 in August, has found a way to overcome a weakness on backhand. "The backhand was always his kind of weaker shot ... so most of the players (tried) to attack that vulnerable side of his game," Djokovic said. "But he mixes it up really well with the slice. He blocks a lot of returns and gets back into play and he moves extremely well. He's one of the fittest guys on the tour. So that helps him, always being in the right position."

Dimitrov reached his second semifinal this season by beating Cristian Garin 6-2, 7-5. Shapovalov crushed Gael Monfils 6-2, 6-2, ending the Frenchman's hopes of reaching the season-ending ATP Finals in London and sending U.S. Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini there instead.

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