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Novak Djokovic staying calm amid the circus

PARIS -- Gustavo Kuerten, still shaggy and impossibly skinny after all these years, says he isn't worried about Novak Djokovic.

"For him," the three-time French Open champion said Thursday, "not that much. He's like Superman. I think he can handle it well."

Guga, who was introduced as a global ambassador for the International Tennis Hall of Fame, shared his thoughts with a small crowd at a reception that featured espresso, champagne, croissants and fresh berries.

"It's a tournament that everybody's a little -- how you say -- anxious," Kuerten said. "[But] I don't see too many doubts on his mind these last days."

On the surface, anyway, Djokovic is loose.

Two hours before his Thursday quarterfinal match with Tomas Berdych, Djokovic had a leisurely hit on Court Philippe Chatrier with David Goffin. Afterward, an animated Djokovic posed for a selfie shot with some of the pretty ushers in the French Tennis Federation box.

Predictably, the world No. 1 advanced seamlessly, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, although rain, naturally, briefly interrupted the match.

It's been a trying fortnight for everyone -- before the rain delay, Berdych called it "One big circus" -- but Djokovic, who is seeking his first French title and career Grand Slam, is trying to make some personal history here. Even so, he's gone out of his way to be endearing.

There was a group picture with all the ball kids, a Gene Kelly impersonation with a patron's umbrella and an on-court interview conducted with Fabrice Santoro (in French) -- with Djokovic wearing the former French player's goofy yellow slicker hat. On Thursday, the Serb invited a ball boy to help with his choreographed postmatch tribute to spectators.

"Well, as soon as I finish the match, I start to think what I'm going to do for the next -- no, I'm kidding," Djokovic said Wednesday, after finishing off Roberto Bautista Agut. "It just comes naturally. [Santoro] was obviously well prepared in case it rains. We just had a little joke about it.

"Joke cannot hurt anybody, and it's good to bring a little bit of positive energy in these gray days."

These antic gestures amid the gloom feel a bit forced, perhaps even calculated. Djokovic did not rise to the world's No. 1-ranking by being spontaneous.

The hijinks clearly help him build valuable equity with the French crowds. Djokovic, when playing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, has been the un-favorite many, many times. In their absence -- this is Djokovic's first Grand Slam without Federer and his first French Open without Nadal in the second week -- he would love to have the crowd's support in a potential final against either Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka.

There is another possibility, too. Perhaps this is Djokovic's coping mechanism, his way of dealing with the enormous expectations that have settled on him here. He has said repeatedly that he doesn't feel the pressure, that he isn't "obsessed," but his protests are starting to sound like too much.

In 2009, when Robin Soderling stunned Nadal in the fourth round, Federer capitalized on that yawning opening, that soft spot in the zone. He won his only French Open title.

Can Djokovic do the same?

Well, he won his 26th consecutive match in a major and is into, believe it or not, his 30th career Grand Slam semifinal and his sixth straight at Roland Garros.

Because of the rain that seems to have moved in permanently over Roland Garros, this was Djokovic's third straight day of tennis. Friday, weather permitting, he faces No. 13 Dominic Thiem, a four-set winner against No. 12 David Goffin.

Thiem had never been to a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal before Thursday, which is fortuitous for Djokovic, because last year he played a draining five-set semifinal match against Andy Murray that left the Serb noticeably depleted in the final against Stan Wawrinka.

In his postmatch interview, Djokovic shook his head when a reporter asked him if he preferred a final moved from Sunday to Monday to give him an added breather.

"No," Djokovic said. "For now, it's fine playing tomorrow, potentially, having finals on Sunday. Let's see."

Djokovic beat Berdych for the 11th consecutive time and the 24th time in 26 opportunities. His only misstep: Djokovic lost control of his racket during a mild tantrum and, when it shot straight behind him, an alert line judge managed to dodge it.

"I was lucky there," said Djokovic, not sounding like he felt particularly lucky.

As they say in France, c'est la vie.

Djokovic, like everyone else here, can't wait for the next four days to be over.