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Djokovic marches into French Open semifinals

Novak Djokovic, who is now two wins from his first French Open title, returns the ball to Milos Raonic during Tuesday’s quarterfinal match. (Reuters)

Novak Djokovic, who is now two wins from his first French Open title, returns the ball to Milos Raonic during Tuesday’s quarterfinal match. (Reuters)

PARIS — Novak Djokovic proved too hot to handle for Canadian outsider Milos Raonic as the Serb qualified for the French Open semifinals for the sixth time with a clinical 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory on Tuesday.

The world No. 2, chasing the only grand slam title to elude him, next meets 18th-seeded Latvian Ernests Gulbis.

Raonic went close against Djokovic on clay in the Rome Masters semifinals last month, losing 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-3, but this time the Serb played better.

“It’s never smooth against Milos or any server of his caliber,” Djokovic told reporters. “It was important to get the first set under my belt. Even though it was a straight-sets win, only a few points here and there decided the winner.

“Against such a player you have to wait for your opportunities and when they’re presented to you, you’d better take them.”

A couple of double faults in the 11th game put Raonic under pressure, and Djokovic took full advantage, grabbing the opening set after unsettling his opponent with a dipping backhand.

The Serb, who now has a 3-0 record against Raonic, then took the second-set tiebreak when his rival missed a backhand.

The Canadian trailed 4-0 in the third set before retrieving one of the two breaks of serve.

Djokovic, however, ended the contest on his first match point when Raonic, the first Canadian male to reach the last eight of a grand slam in the professional era, sent a forehand wide.

“It is complicated to play against him because he has a great serve, powerful and accurate, difficult to anticipate,” said Djokovic. “It was important to be mentally strong and consistent.”

Raonic said there was a subtle difference between their meetings in Rome and Paris.

“I think where he stood out today compared to Rome was he was playing a lot closer to the baseline, he was not letting me dictate as much,” the Canadian explained.

SHARAPOVA SURVIVES: There was no Serena Williams standing in her way, but despite the absence of her American nemesis, Maria Sharapova came dangerously close to missing out on a semifinal date at the French Open with a younger version of herself.

Down 6-1, 5-4, the Russian was on the verge of being toppled by the same Spanish gale force that had blown away defending champion Williams in the second round.

Just when it seemed that Venezuelan-born Garbine Muguruza would pull off an unlikely Williams-Sharapova double upset at Roland Garros, the 2012 champion’s renowned fighting instincts kicked in and she stormed back for a 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory.

“If I lost that match, I would be kicking myself in the bottom,” Sharapova said after reaching the Paris semifinals for the fourth successive year.

Blocking the former world No. 1’s path to a third final in a row is Eugenie Bouchard, who is trying to become the first Canadian to reach a grand slam final. Bouchard trailed in both the first and third sets to Carla Suarez Navarro on Tuesday but bounced back each time for a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-5 victory to advance to the semifinals.