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By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS, June 5 Novak Djokovic kept calm, cool and collected to subdue the challenge of 35-year-old Tommy Haas with a 6-3 7-6(5) 7-5 win in the quarter-finals of the French Open on Wednesday.
If the world number one still had nightmares about his mauling by Haas just over two months ago in Miami, he hid those fears well to set up a semi-final blockbuster with seven-times champion Rafa Nadal.
"Playing Rafa at Roland Garros is the biggest challenge on clay. I am ready to play five sets," Djokovic said as he chases the one grand slam trophy missing from his collection.
Haas was one of four 30-somethings to reach the men's quarter-finals but youth won out as only David Ferrer, who beat fellow 31-year-old Tommy Robredo on Tuesday, made it past the last-eight stage.
Just how much difference younger legs make was in evidence on a sun-drenched Suzanne Lenglen Court as Djokovic took full advantage of the nine-year age gap to come out on top in almost every department.
He had more aces (11-4), more points on first serve (82 percent-65 percent), more points on second serve (78 percent-42 percent), more winners (46-19) and more points won (116-84).
Cries of "Tomeeeeeeeeeeeee, Tomeeeeeeeeeeeee, Tomeeeeeeeeeeeee" rang around the court but it failed to lift the fortunes of the fan favourite.
After Djokovic outplayed the German warrior in the first set, Haas went toe-to-toe with the Serbian in the second. Three times the 12th seed went ahead with a mini-break in the tiebreak but each time Djokovic fought back.
When Djokovic brought up set point by finishing off a 24-shot rally with a breathtaking crosscourt backhand winner, the damage was done and there was no way back into the set for Haas who was looking to become the oldest men's semi-finalist in Paris since 1968.
That left Haas slapping his chest in frustration, toying with the prospect of slamming his racket into the ground and hurling abuse at himself in German.
He desperately wanted to win the match as it would have given him a 100th grand slam match victory but, watched on by Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Djokovic sunk the German's hopes in little over two hours.
Haas enjoyed one final hurrah in the third set, breaking the top seed when he was serving for the match at 5-4 but it was soon evident he was running on empty as he lost the next two games and the match when Djokovic whacked a backhand winner into the corner of the court.
"Today's opponent is tough," Djokovic said. "He has a precise serve, has an aggressive game, has variety in his shots, can play really well on defence, offence, and come to the net.
"So, yeah, it was a good performance for me in general. On the important points I came up with some good shots." (Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Alison Wildey)