Djokovic closes on elusive prize
Top seed Novak Djokovic has landed his 24th win from 26 matches against Czech Tomas Berdych to reach the Roland-Garros semi-finals.
Novak Djokovic has closed to within two wins of becoming only the second man since Rod Laver to hold all four major titles at once after a polished straight-sets result over seventh seed Tomas Berdych on Thursday.
The top seed lifted a gear in the best performance of his 2016 Roland-Garros campaign to defeat the Czech 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, but not before a close shave involving a wayward racquet and a line judge went close to derailing his bid for Paris glory.
Djokovic advanced to his 30th Grand Slam semi-final and consigned Berdych to losing his 25th straight set against a top-five player. It was Djokovic's 24th win from 26 matches against the Czech.
The numbers do not make for pretty reading for Berdych.
Despite sticking with the Serb for much of the match, he went missing on crucial points, with Djokovic often utilising drop shots to out-manoeuvre his 196cm-tall opponent.
"Especially in these conditions it's good to have this shot in your game," Djokovic said. "Particularly when I play a player like Tomas that is not as great of a mover maybe as somebody else around the court, forward, backwards, and so I tried to expose his movement and his weaknesses.
"When the court is wet, when the conditions are slow, of course it does work better than when it's not."
Trailing a set and a break and sensing the match slipping away in a hurry at the one-hour mark, Berdych brought up three break points with a heavy forehand winner and broke on his third chance when Djokovic missed long for 3-4. With Berdych levelling at 4-4, the pair traded four straight love games.
Yet the last of those proved costly - it was Berdych being broken to lose the set when he floated a forehand well wide. It marked the 15th time from 19 sets he had stuck with Djokovic to 5-5 in a set, only to lose it.
"I think there were a couple of little chances," Berdych said of coming from 4-1 down in the second set only to let it slip. "And especially with him, at least, if you get a little, very small chance, it's what it's all about ... He just handled it better today."
When Djokovic quickly fell behind a break in the third and missed a break point to level for 1-1 a near-miss went very close to ending his bid for the non-calendar slam in an instant.
As he swatted his racquet through the air in frustration it accidentally flew from his hand, narrowly missing a line judge and resulting in a code violation warning.
"I threw a racquet on the ground and it slipped and almost hit the line umpire," Djokovic said. "I was lucky there. That's all."
Following a resumption of play after a rain delay, it was Djokovic who settled the better, reeling off the final three games of the match.
Where a semi-final showdown with nine-time champion Rafael Nadal was pencilled in early in the tournament, few predicted Austrian 22-year-old Dominic Thiem would instead end up being the man Djokovic would face for a place in his fourth Roland-Garros decider.
The pair has met twice before with the Serb claiming both encounters. Both have won more matches than any other this season - Djokovic with 42, Thiem with 41.
"He's one of the leaders of the new generation. 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," Djokovic said.
"I'm sure he's going to give it all in semis. But I have something to fight for, as well."