By Ros Satar
- Novak Djokovic  v Dominic Thiem  – H2H: Djokovic leads 2-0
- Djokovic def. Tomas Berdych  6-3 7-5 6-3
- Thiem def. David Goffin  4-6 7-6(7) 6-4 6-1Novak Djokovic
PARIS, FRANCE – The second semi-final is set as World No. 1 Novak Djokovic faces one of the up-coming stars of the ATP Dominic Thiem for a spot in the French Open final.
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It has been a tough old time for Djokovic, who has been more or less as permanent a fixture on Court Philippe Chatrier as the Roland Garros umbrellas around the place. In his previous few matches he has seemed irritable and distracted at times, as though the burgeoning pressure of bidding for his first French Open title has become too much.
Not so much on Thursday as he cruised past Tomas Berdych in straight sets, but not without a touch of controversy. A later start saw the dreaded rain return fleetingly and while the play continued in Thiem’s match, Djokovic chose to leave the court during a brief halt and hold for rain, but never looked in danger of being usurped by the Czech. Between that and a racquet smash that bounced back and almost hit a lines-judge, the pressure is building.
In fact Djokovic is now on a 26-match Grand Slam winning streak – last losing here in Paris in the final to Stan Wawrinka.
He will now face a first-timer at this stage of a Slam as Thiem outlasted David Goffin in four sets. The Belgian was a whisker away from a 1-4 deficit before he started to claw his way back into his own bid for a landmark win, as he got back on serve before winning the next three games to seal the first set.
A swinging second set saw Thiem edge a competitive tie-break, only to be broken right at the start of the third. It took him until the end of the set to suddenly connect at the big moments to nudge into a 2-1 lead. From there it was plain sailing, leaping to a 5-0 lead, before Goffin managed at least one game to redeem himself in the fourth set.
Djokovic may have been grumpy a lot of the time, but he has dropped just a single set throughout the tournament in his rain-disrupted fourth round match. Thiem has been coasting along, the subject of intense interest in the ‘battle of the zebras’ with another comeback from a set down to fellow ATP young gun Alexander Zverev.
He has bowed out to Djokovic twice in straight sets on hard courts, the latest being this year in Miami, but clay suits him, and more importantly he has shown he has the strength to hit through the clay clagginess that has come with the dreary conditions thus far in Paris.
Should the conditions be as overcast and oppressive as they have been, Thiem has the capability of pushing Djokovic to at least four sets, and the semi-finalists on the bottom half of the draw would probably prefer to wish for their match to go the distance.
Djokovic is within two match wins of his dream, but the stress has shown throughout the tournament. We don’t think for one minute that Thiem will act like he is just happy to be here. But it all comes down to if his self-belief will allow him to be the aggressor, and push Djokovic to earn that shot at the title.
The Austrian plays an aggressive baseline game but has good defence as well. He builds his points well, and could try and ‘Out-Djokovic’ Djokovic, in terms of outlasting them in gruelling exchanges. Although Thiem can come forward to try and finish his points early Djokovic may want to pull him back and forth instead, with the variety and perhaps better agility that he possesses.
What lies in Thiem’s favour is that he has taken on some of the clay court greats and won, and his mentality is solid. He is unlikely to be overawed by the occasion, and should be prepared to go the distance.
Prediction: Djokovic in five sets.
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