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5 things at French Open: Nadal's 33-match streak; Murray's clay strides; Djokovic vs. Gulbis

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PARIS - Five things to look for in the men's semifinals Friday at the French Open:

NADAL'S STREAK: Heading into his semifinal against Andy Murray, No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal's French Open record is a hard-to-believe 64-1, a run that includes eight titles — more than any man has won at any of the Grand Slam tournaments — and a 33-match winning streak. The lone loss came to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009. Nadal is trying to become the first man to win five consecutive French Opens.

NADAL VS. MURRAY: Nadal or Murray has participated in each of the last 17 Grand Slam finals, a stretch that dates to the 2010 Australian Open. That will become 18 major finals in a row at this French Open, of course. But in none of those instances did Nadal and Murray face each other for the title. Eight of their 19 previous career matchups came at majors, with Nadal holding a 6-2 edge — once in the fourth round, once in a quarterfinal, and six in semifinals. Overall, Nadal leads 14-5. This meeting makes them the only two men in the Open era, which began in 1968, to have met at least twice at each Grand Slam.

MURRAY ON CLAY: Everyone knows just how good Nadal is on red clay. But Murray, whose major titles came on grass at Wimbledon and on hard courts at the U.S. Open, is proving rather adept at handling the slow surface, too. This is his second French Open semifinal — he made it that far in 2011, before losing to Nadal, naturally — and he made clear after his five-set victory over Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals that he is not satisfied. "It's definitely a big achievement, but that's not what I came here to do. Yeah, my goals are different and my expectations are different to a lot of people," Murray said. "I expect a lot of myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well at these events, and thankfully I have done OK so far. Still hopefully a long way to go in the tournament."

DJOKOVIC VS. GULBIS: No. 2 Novak Djokovic meets No. 18 Ernests Gulbis, the only man from Latvia to enter a Grand Slam tournament, in Friday's opening semifinal. Djokovic holds a 4-1 lead in head-to-head matches, including a straight-set win in the 2008 French Open quarterfinals, the only other time Gulbis made it that far at a major. They go way back: Both attended a tennis academy in Munich in their early teens.

GLUTEN-FREE: Djokovic, a six-time major champion, needs a French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam. He's talked often — and even written a book — about how changes to his eating habits, including dispensing with gluten, helped him overcome problems with fitness and allergies early in his career. And Gulbis? He was asked this week why he needed a half-dozen years to get back to the latter stages of a major after doing so initially as a teenager. "What took me so long? I think I was eating wrong. I had the wrong diet," he said with a laugh. "Everybody was talking about this gluten-free diet. My diet is full-on gluten. I like a lot of ketchup, a lot of unhealthy stuff, so there is a balance which I found in the last couple of years."

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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