Paris | Djokovic and Thiem sweep through to semi
Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem reached their allotted places in the final as they were expected to as the top and fourth seeds keen to fulfil their individual ambitions for the French Open.
Dominic is deservedly where he is, one of the top four guys, especially on clay. That's where he's playing his best tennis. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic wants to underline his supremacy in the game by collecting his second career slam winning all four majors consecutively though across two seasons while Thiem, last year’s beaten finalist, wants to come out of the shadows and establish himself amongst the list of major winners.
For world number one Djokovic it was his ninth appearance at the semi-final stage – and the 35th of his career at grand slams – following his quick 7-5 6-2 6-2 demolition of Alexander Zverev as he kept himself on track while Thiem kept up his hopes with a fourth consecutive Roland Garros semi after sweeping past Karen Khachanov 6-2 6-4 6-2.
The hurdles for the Austrian are indeed high with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal coming through in the other half of the draw but he has scored wins against them and his performances on clay in recent months suggest he could well dent the Big Three.
Djokovic maintained: “Dominic is deservedly where he is, one of the top four guys, especially on clay. That’s where he’s playing his best tennis.
“He’s got that tremendous power in his game, especially with forehand and serve. I think backhand also has improved a lot in the last couple of years.”
The real problem for those left in the tournament, is the weather as rain is forecast for Friday and like last Wednesday, could cause a washout. However that possibility isn’t dampening the Serb’s spirits who believes he is on the threshold of making history with his career slam, comparing it to Rod Laver’s two Grand Slams which were individually secured during the season, not spread across two!
“The presence of history-making is stronger than ever right now in my career. That’s one of the greatest motivations I have,” he said. The last time he made the last four in 2016, he went on to win the title.
The second semi-final will see Nadal and Federer resume their great rivalry, meaning this is the first time the top four seeds have all reached the last four at a Grand Slam since the 2013 Australian Open.
Djokovic holds a 6-2 career lead over Thiem and beat the Austrian in the Rome Masters semi-final in the run-up to Paris.
However, Thiem came out on top in the 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finals, winning in straight sets.
The fifth seed Zverev, bidding to reach a maiden Slam semi-final and become the first German in the last-four in Paris since Michael Stich in 1996, couldn’t capitalise on a strong start and convert the break points he held in the third and fifth games of the opening set though he did snatch the lead briefly when he broke for 5-4.
Djokovic struck back immediately and went on to take the set when the German 22-year-old double-faulted. Having pocketed the first set, the top seed took control with breaks in the second an eighth games of the second, held off two break points in the opening game of the third and swept towards the finish line when he broke for 4-2.
“I expected more from this tournament but once the first set slipped away, it was difficult,” said the young German, who finished with eight double faults while converting just one of eight break points.
In contrast, Thiem was utterly dominant on Court Suzanne Lenglen, hammering 29 winners past the big serving Khachanov who aided his charge through to the last four by making 37 unforced errors and hitting only 17 winners.
Thiem insists he will not be intimidated by Djokovic but was full of praise for his rival as well as Nadal and Federer who have a combined 52 Slam titles between them.
“I think that all three of them have something special around them because of all the success they had,” he said. “I think that especially in the early rounds — they have a huge advantage because of their name.
“Many players don’t really believe, if they step on court, that they can beat them.”
Reflecting on his victory over the Russian, Thiem added: “The key was to control the points. I’ll be ready to maybe come back here tomorrow. This is one of my favourite courts in the world,”
Khachanov had impressed in a fourth-round four set victory over Juan Martin del Potro, but was never in with a chance in the quarter-final, which was delayed from Wednesday due to rain, dropping serve twice in the opening set.
He managed to level at 4-4 in the second, only to see Thiem reel off eight of the next 10 games to seal his last-four spot without even facing a break point in the match.