Thiem Takes Out Defending Champ Djokovic

Young Austrian sets up Nadal clash in the semi-finals

Dominic Thiem sensationally beat defending champion Novak Djokovic on Wednesday and will next face nine-time titlist Rafael Nadal in his second straight Roland Garros semi-final appearance.

Sixth seed Thiem saved two set points in the first set of his 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-0 victory over second seed Djokovic, who became the eighth player in tennis history to complete the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros last year. The win avenged Thiem’s loss to Djokovic in the recent Internazionali BNL d'Italia semi-finals and last year’s semi-finals at the Paris clay-court major.

“It's great for me to be in the semi-finals again, to defend that. And of course, I think on Friday [will be] the toughest opponent ever here in Roland Garros. It's going to be the fourth match against him in five or six weeks. Not really any big secrets. He's again in his best shape. So it's going be the toughest match that you can imagine,” Thiem said of playing Nadal.

Thiem, who was contesting his 250th tour-level match (156-94 record), will now be hoping to following in the footsteps of 1995 Roland Garros champion and fellow Austrian Thomas Muster. Thiem has a 34-12 record on the season, second only to Nadal who is now 41-6 overall in 2017.

The 23-year-old Thiem recovered from a 2-4 deficit in the first set, and saved two set points on serve at 4-5, 15/40. In a tense tie-break, Thiem held his nerve in testing conditions, clinching the 76-minute opener when Djokovic committed his 18th unforced error with a routine backhand into the net.

Thiem maintained his momentum by converting his third break point opportunity in the second game of the second set en route to a 4-1 lead. Although Djokovic fought back, stepping in on his return of serve, he could not reclaim the break as Thiem saved one chance at 4-2, 30/40 with a forehand winner down the line.

From a 5-3 lead in the second set, Thiem won seven straight games as Djokovic's backhand began to falter. “I think there [were] some key points in the match. The first set was very, very long and very close. Then in the second set, in the beginning, I was down love/30. I still made the game and broke him in the first service game and again broke him in his first service game in the third set,” Thiem said. 

Although the crowd on Suzanne-Lenglen Court attempted to spark Djokovic into life, it proved to be too late and on Monday, the Serbian will drop outside of the Top 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time since July 2011.

“All in all, it was decided I think in the first set,” said Djokovic. “I tried. I lost that crucial break in the beginning of the second [set], and he started serving better, backing it up with the first shot. He deserved to win. He was definitely the better player on the court today.”

Thiem, who had lost in 59 minutes to Djokovic in Rome, said he didn't alter his strategy much.  “I didn't play a different game style. I just had a positive win-error statistic today. That's very important,” said Thiem, who hit 38 winners to 28 unforced errors.

Nadal, Thiem's semi-final opponent, is now 100-2 in best-of-five sets clay-court matches after reaching his 25th major semi-final with victory over fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, who retired due to injury early in the second set.

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