We are down to just four. And really, it’s not much of a surprise who’s still standing in the men’s bracket of the 2016 French Open. We have the usuals Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray plus the defending champion Stan Wawrinka. And the new guy, Dominic Theim, who takes the spot of the injured Rafael Nadal.
And Thiem is more than well deserving. The 22-year-old leads the men’s tour in clay wins and has victories on that surface over both Nadal and Roger Federer.
Earlier today, Thiem overcame a set down to beat his buddy David Goffin 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-1 to advance to his first career Grand Slam semifinal. Goffin dictated early, forcing Thiem to press but then the Austrian turned up the power and from what I saw – which wasn’t much – was able to hit through the heavy court. It was some bruising tennis for a while there from Thiem who really benefits from the time the heavy clay gives him.
“Honestly in the whole second set I didn’t really think that I’m going to win this match, because he was just on top of me. He was the better player the first two sets maybe, or until the tiebreak,” Thiem said.
“I didn’t know what to do because he was returning well. He didn’t do any mistakes. Then I think the tiebreak was one of the highest levels I was ever playing. Things kind of turned around.”
While that was going on, Tennis Channel focused its coverage on Novak Djokovic’s straight forward win over Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5 6-3 (and later Serena).
Berdych was down early and we knew what was coming. About the only suspense was if there would be a rain delay – and there was! Honestly, it was a pretty flat match.
“In these conditions, it’s good to have the [drop shot] in your game. Particularly when I play a player like Tomas. I tried to expose his movement and his weaknesses,” said Djokovic. “I’m very pleased to be in semifinals of another Grand Slam, but because I have to play every day, my focus is on recovery and the next match. I don’t have much time, really.”
So both semifinals are set in soggy Paris. Now for some picks for Friday.
Novak Djokovic v Dominic Thiem
Djokovic has won both meetings with the Austrian, but this is their first collision on clay, so that should help Dominic here. But that doesn’t swing the match enough in his favor. Novak’s still the better man and Thiem agrees.
“It’s going to be unbelievably tough,” Thiem said. “I think he’s a little bit on a different level than all the other players, but still I’m in good shape and the match starts at 0-0. I’m going to do it like the whole tournament: I just go out, I will give my best and focus 100%. Then I will see the outcome.”
And while I give Dominic a real chance, I think the outcome here is Djokovic. The experience, the motivation and with what’s on the line all point Novak. If it is wet and heavy again, that should help Thiem. But I just feel like he’s not going to be able to slug it out with Novak so far back in the court, if he is that far back. Especially if Novak gets the drop shots going again.
“[Thiem] is one of the leaders of the new generation,” Djokovic said. “I’m sure he’s very motivated to show himself and others that he deserves to be at the top and compete for biggest titles.
“He’s playing the best tennis of his life, no doubt about it. The results are showing that. He plays with a lot of speed, a lot of power. I’m sure he’s going to give it his all in the semis. But I have something to fight for as well. It’s going to be a good one.”
And I also wonder about Thiem’s mental fatigue. Making a first Slam quarterfinal, then semifinal on back-to-back days, might take a little toll. Maybe.
Meanwhile, Novak should be in shape for this last push.
That said, we are due for one of these young guys to breakthrough, aren’t we? It’s got to happen…
So I think as Novak says it should be a good one and if Thiem doesn’t win Friday, I think eventually he will.
The pick: Djokovic in four
Stan Wawrinka v Andy Murray
In arguably the main event, two guys who combined to win the Career Slam, Wawrinka and Murray battle again. And while Murray leads in this one 8-7, it’s Wawrinka who’s come out ahead winning the last three under Magnus Norman.
This is a real tough match to pick. On one hand Stan is defending champion and after a speed bump in the first round he’s looked quite good.
The same for Murray. He was shaky early but has played much better since.
Both have their negatives. Stan hasn’t beaten a single player of note – and he hasn’t beaten a Top 10er all year! Murray did have his struggles with “not that Borg” and Radek Stepanek. And he should be thankful Richard Gasquet is who he is. And wins over Ivo Karlovic and John Isner, well.
And Stan also has never lost to Murray on clay, 2-0. However, I’m going to stick with Murray largely because Stan just hasn’t had that big win this year. And Murray has that fire going in his belly.
So in a toss up, I’ll go with Andy.
The pick: Murray in 5
NBC and the Tennis Channel will air the women’s semifinals first, then the men’s as they play the semifinals at the same time.
It should be a good day/morning of tennis. Let’s just hope Mother Nature cooperates.
FRIDAY FRENCH OPEN SEMIFINAL SCHEDULE
Philippe-Chatrier Court 1:00 PM Start
Serena Williams (USA) vs. Kiki Bertens (NED)
Not Before: 3:00 PM
Stan Wawrinka (SUI) vs. Andy Murray (GBR)
Suzanne-Lenglen Court 1:00 PM Start
Garbine Muguruza (ESP) vs. Samantha Stosur (AUS)
Not Before: 3:00 PM
Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Dominic Thiem (AUT)
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