PARIS — As daylight disappeared, Novak Djokovic watched one last ace fly off Roger Federer's racket and end their semifinal at the 2011 French Open.
It has been nearly a year since that evening, and Djokovic hasn't lost a Grand Slam match since.
He has won 21 in a row, earning titles at Wimbledon in July, the U.S. Open in September, and the Australian Open in January. If Djokovic can prolong that run on the red clay of Roland Garros over the next two weeks, he will become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four consecutive majors (though Laver's four came in one calendar year).
The Serb, 25, is trying not to expend too much energy pondering the milestone before the French Open, which starts today.
"It would definitely mean the world to me," Djokovic said. "But I do not want to put too much pressure on myself."
Djokovic insists he wants to view this tournament the way he would any other year.
Federer's take? Good luck.
"The hard part is the same for everyone: every point you play, every game you play, the pressure you face and just answering the questions time and time again," said Federer, who twice fell one match shy of four Grand Slam titles in a row, losing in the French Open final to Rafael Nadal in 2006 and 2007.
"It's fun because you're talking about the highest of accomplishments. But at the end of the day, you just like to play the matches and not talk about it that much."
Nadal also went on a three-major win streak — the French, Wimbledon and U.S. in 2010 — before losing in the Australian Open quarterfinals while hampered by a left leg muscle injury.
He dismissed the notion that he came close to equaling Laver, noting he was three matches away.
"Life continues," Nadal said. "And you keep working hard to try to be fit and be competitive for the next (match)."
On the women's side, the most surprising story this spring has been the emergence of Maria Sharapova as a favorite.
Never known for her movement, sliding or patience on the dirt, the Russian, 25, has improved her clay game. Four of her past five titles have come on clay, and she is 11-1 on it this year. That includes beating defending French Open champion Li Na in the final at Rome last weekend.
Li raced to a 6-4, 4-0 lead, then made 24 unforced errors, which allowed Sharapova to win the next six games. After two rain delays, Sharapova won the third-set tiebreaker 7-5 after staving off a match point.
"I'm much more comfortable on this surface," Sharapova said. "Even though I don't play too many tournaments on it throughout the year, with every year that has come and the clay season that arrives, I feel physically stronger.
"That's definitely helped me in the recovery process as well. I'm enjoying it a bit more."