PARIS -- The first obvious sign of trouble for Novak Djokovic came when he stepped out into Court Philippe Chatrier with a rather large square of beige athletic tape on the back of his neck.
The next indication came on the very first point of his French Open quarterfinal against Pablo Carreno Busta, when Djokovic let a ball toss drop and abandoned his serve mid-motion.
Soon enough, Djokovic was flexing and stretching his left arm or hitting it with his racket.
Off to a slow start on Wednesday night, Djokovic received massages from a trainer, then righted himself and beat Carreno Busta 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros for the 10th time.
"I definitely didn't feel great coming into the court today. A few things happened in the warm-up," the No. 1-ranked Djokovic said, without going into specifics.
"I had some neck issues and some shoulder issues. I'll just say that. I mean, I don't want to get really too much into it. Obviously, I'm still in the tournament, so I don't want to reveal too much. I'm feeling OK," said Djokovic, who will face No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Friday's semifinals. "As the match progressed, I warmed up my body, and the pain kind of faded away. It allowed me to play better and feel better."
Carreno Busta had at least a bit of doubt about what was going on.
"Maybe it's the pressure or something. ... I mean, he continues playing normal, no?" the 17th-seeded Spaniard said. "I don't know if he's [in] pain really. Ask him."
This was a rematch from the U.S. Open last month, when Djokovic was defaulted for inadvertently hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball he smacked in anger. That went into the books as a loss and remains the only blemish on Djokovic's 36-1 record in 2020.
"I'm over it," he said. "I'm not thinking about it at all."
Djokovic hadn't even ceded a set at Roland Garros until Wednesday. Now he'll get a day to recuperate as he seeks a second title in Paris and 18th Grand Slam trophy.
No. 2 Rafael Nadal faces No. 12 Diego Schwartzman in the other semifinal Friday. Nadal eyes a 13th championship at the French Open, which would give him 20 majors overall, equaling Roger Federer's record for men.
In the women's semifinals today, it'll be Sofia Kenin vs. Petra Kvitova, and Iga Swiatek vs. Nadia Podoroska.
Tsitsipas reached his first French Open semifinal with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 victory over 13th-seeded Andrey Rublev, taking control after trailing in the first set with a run of five consecutive games.
At the U.S. Open, Tsitsipas failed to convert a half-dozen match points in a third-round defeat.
hen, against Rublev in the final of the clay-court Hamburg Open on Sept. 27, Tsitsipas served for the victory but wound up absorbing another disheartening defeat. Two days later, in Paris, Tsitsipas lost the initial two sets of his first-round match against 109th-ranked Jaume Munar.
But Tsitsipas hasn't lost a set since.
"I'm chasing something spectacular," the 22-year-old from Greece said.
He'll need to get past Djokovic to continue the pursuit.
Against Carreno Busta, Djokovic manipulated his left arm. At changeovers, he rubbed it.
He hit himself in the lower part of his biceps with the heel of his right hand. He pushed his left triceps against his sideline seat.
Demonstrative as ever, he smacked himself on his thighs with his racket or hung his head or leaned over with hands on knees after missed shots -- and there were plenty of misses.
The drop shots so successful for Djokovic all tournament were off-target. Getting serves in was difficult. He was hesitant with ground strokes.
In the opening set, Djokovic accumulated three double-faults and a whopping 16 unforced errors -- accounting for nearly half of Carreno Busta's 33 points.
At the changeover before the second set, Djokovic was attended to by a trainer, who returned for another massage three games later.
Maybe that did the trick, because from then on, Djokovic was a different player.
He had twice as many winners as unforced errors in the second set. He took nine of 11 games.
"The worst moment of the match for me," Carreno Busta said.