Dominic Thiem Ends Novak Djokovic’s Run of Major Titles

PARIS — Two victories from stitching together another perfect string of Grand Slam tournaments, Novak Djokovic was tied into knots and sent out of the French Open with a semifinal loss to Dominic Thiem on Saturday.

The fourth-seeded Thiem, known more for his bludgeoning power than his delicate touch, wove together an all-court game to beat the top-seeded Djokovic, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5, in 4 hours 13 minutes.

His reward is a rematch of last year’s final against the 11-time champion Rafael Nadal on Sunday, less than 24 hours after his match with Djokovic ended. Nadal won his semifinal over Roger Federer with considerably more simplicity on Friday afternoon.

Nothing came easy to Djokovic in the match against Thiem that followed.

Djokovic, who began a renaissance a year ago when he won Wimbledon while ranked outside the top 20, fell short of sweeping four Grand Slam titles in a row, a feat he first achieved by winning the 2016 French Open.

At this tournament, Djokovic was the only one of the four semifinalists not to drop a set through his first five matches.

But with winds whipping around Philippe Chatrier Court on Friday — Djokovic called them “hurricane kind of conditions” — he wavered wildly. He won just 10 points in the first set, hitting one winner.

When play was finally suspended with Thiem leading by 3-1 in the third set, Djokovic looked especially eager to call it a day, packing his bag and walking off the court before Thiem had even reached his chair.

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Novak Djokovic had won the last three Grand Slam men’s singles titles.CreditKai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

The less turbulent conditions on Saturday did little to relax Djokovic, especially as Thiem kept him off balance with a blend of short balls, slices and behind-the-baseline blasting.

The changes in tempo kept Djokovic from his methodical, metronomic best, and he struggled particularly when Thiem lured him forward. He won less than half of his net points. Thiem, who won 18 of 20 approaches, was able to extend rallies and chase down Djokovic’s jabs and parries with incredible foot speed.

Adding to Djokovic’s frustrations, Thiem seemed to have all the luck on his side, too: One backhand passing shot attempt slapped hard into the net cord, but then skipped high over Djokovic’s head, landing just inside the baseline.

Thiem had victory all but sewn up at 4-1 in the fifth set when rain again interjected, keeping the players off the court for an hour and delaying the start of the women’s final.

When Djokovic and Thiem returned, in their most placid conditions yet, Djokovic seemed to have found his peace. He broke Thiem to pull to 3-4.

But serving at 3-4, 30-0, Djokovic suddenly unraveled. He double-faulted and dumped errors into the net, giving back the break. But up double match point in the next game, Thiem hit four consecutive unforced errors of his own, allowing Djokovic plenty of rope to climb back into the match.

Djokovic leveled at 5-5, but then allowed Thiem back in with a further spray of errors off the ground, giving him a third match point.

Thiem, who had fought with both force and finesse, finally finished the win with a bit of both. He pulled Djokovic to his left with a knifing backhand crosscourt slice, then blasted an inside-in forehand winner to seal the victory.

The messy, memorable match was the first five-set victory of Thiem’s career at Roland Garros.

“It’s good for a start, I think, this one,” Thiem said in his on-court interview. “I’m here in the semifinals with maybe the three best players of all time, so every single time to beat one of them is amazing.”

Source: NYT

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