Goodbye to another Nole Slam, a second Career Slam and any hopes at a Calendar Slam. Novak Djokovic has to say goodbye to all that after it all went kaput on Court Chatrier today at the French Open.
In the resumption of their semifinal from yesterday, Dominic Thiem took down Djokovic in five tough sets 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in 4 hours, 13 minutes.
The conditions today weren’t that much better than when they stopped Friday, but at anything is an improvement, and today the play was. Thiem ended up stronger in the end.
“It was an epic match. I mean, so many ups and downs and rain, going back to the locker, on court again,” Thiem said. “Somehow I had the feeling that I had the lead in the whole match, and then at the end it got so tough. And at the end, both of us could [have] won, and I luckily got the better in the end.”
Today’s portion of the match began with Thiem up 3-1 in the third, but Djokovic came out quicker, breaking back to level and seemingly getting control (that became a theme – whoever was in control, lost it!). And so Djokovic’s form was on the rise until he failed to force a breaker at 5-6. Thiem took the set.
The fourth set was an absolute breakfest (5 total) with Djokovic finally prevailing, forcing a decider.
Thiem, though, got an early edge but at 4-1 another rain delay hit.
After just over an hour off court, they returned and the fans saw Novak get back on serve only to lose it. Thiem tried to serve it out at 5-3, 40-15 but then he fell apart, losing a string of points as Djokovic somehow regained momentum for 5-all.
Thiem held easily for 6-5 then watched Novak unravel and this time on match point he converted.
“He played great, especially in the important moments. Made some really good slices and passing shots. He just managed to put one ball extra in the court at the end of the match,” Djokovic said. “[He hit] heavy forehands and down the wind from one side was much easier to play the entire match. Obviously when we came back the last time, there was a bit less wind, but still, it was a lot of advantage, so to say, playing from that one end.
“But congratulations to him. He’s playing great tennis. He showed why he’s one of the best players in the world, and I wish him best for the final.”
My takeaway from the match is Djokovic let the outside factors get to him. We saw yesterday the wind completely wreck his head. Today, the wind was there again but so too were time violations, a “not up” that the umpire missed, another mark the umpire overturned at a crucial moment when Djokovic stopped play, and then there’s the fact that as he’s chasing all this history, spending all these extra days on court, Nadal is sitting pretty back at the hotel… resting, relaxing.
All these issues seemed to snowball and watching, I just felt like they got him. He couldn’t let them go and they destroyed him inside.
Credit of course to Thiem who played brilliantly. He never showed any issue with the wind or the rain. He just kept his focus and stuck to his gameplan which in part was to bring the Serb into the net.
“It was not really the game plan what I had, but it’s so tough to volley or to play well at the net with all that wind,” Thiem said. “If you put a good spin on it, it’s so tough to volley this one. And especially on the one side where we played against the wind, I was trying to hit that short, flat slice, because the ball didn’t get up again. So I think that was a pretty good tactic.”
So without much rest, it’s…
Rafael Nadal v Dominic Thiem
Nadal leads Thiem 8-4 but the Austrian does have four wins over Rafa on clay. The problem is none of those wins came at the French Open nor in best-of-5 where Nadal is 3-0 against Dominic winning all nine sets.
And (and big AND), Dominic is coming off of three straight days of play including that big win today over No. 1 Djokovic.
Thiem is fit, one of the fittest on the planet, but I just don’t see how he’s going to be able to sustain that top level and take three sets off of Rafa.
That said, Rafa may not be as great as he once was and Thiem might be a better player than a year ago, but again, all that tennis the last three days just doesn’t bode well against a very fresh, very hungry Nadal.
“To play Rafa here on this court, is always the ultimate challenge, one of the toughest challenges sports in general give. I played a really good match against him in Barcelona. It was six weeks ago. So of course I’ll try to do similar [things] even though it’s way tougher to play him here,” Thiem said. “But I’ll try to keep all the positive emotions I’m having right now from this amazing match today, and go with a really positive mind into the match tomorrow, and then we’ll see.”
Another problem for Thiem is his court positioning. Because Chatrier is sooooo big, Thiem gives away even more room (I think that works against him). So for him to win tomorrow, he has to be up in the court and of course redline from the baseline.
And with the way Thiem is playing, I do think he might get a set (maybe the first set) before Rafa revs up and takes it.
Had Thiem played a usual schedule, I may have given him a chance. But with so little rest it’s hard to see.
The Pick: Nadal in 4
Could Thiem win? Yes. He’s got those big wins over Rafa on clay. He’s young enough, fit enough, has low expectations and pressure, and while the Djokovic win was a marathon, he didn’t play all four hours today, it was split up like a Rome event. But now he’s got to go best-of-5 against Rafa, not best-of-3.
So I think we all know what’s coming – even Thiem – it’s a question of how bad will it be for him.
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