Djokovic cruises into fourth French final
World No.1 Novak Djokovic stands on the brink of collecting the only major title missing from his collection after beating Dominic Thiem in a straight-sets semi-final.
Novak Djokovic's hopes of landing an elusive Roland-Garros title will come down to the final for the fourth time after the top seed dismantled rising Austrian Dominic Thiem on Friday.
It marks the Serb's 27th straight Grand Slam match victory and for the second time in his career he stands just one win from becoming just the second man after Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.
If a wet and cold Roland-Garros campaign had irked the world No.1 in his earlier matches he showed he is warming to the challenge at hand.
And at the perfect time. If his quarter-final win over seventh seed Tomas Berdych was comfortable, the lesson he dealt 22-year-old Thiem on Suzanne-Lenglen Court was emphatic; the 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 score-line aptly reflected the command he held over this semi-final.
"Best performance of the tournament," Djokovic said. "As I was hoping after the long fourth round that I'm going to start playing better as the tournament progresses, and that's what's happening now."
His 15 winners were considerably less than the Austrian's 27 but his 15 unforced errors paled in comparison to his opponent's 34. In a potential nod to a future successor in the men's game, Djokovic was full of praise for his young opponent, a man appearing in his first slam semi-final.
"I'm obviously very glad to win in three sets and against a player that was in form and has played many tournaments, many matches this year," Djokovic said.
"He carries himself very well on and off the court for his age. He's a leader of a new generation, very powerful, and has a lot of strength and variety in his game.
"I managed to handle his heavy spin very well today, but I'm sure that, as I told him after the match, we're going to see a lot of him in the future if he continues doing so well."
Djokovic raced to 3-0 in just 11 minutes and punched a forehand volley to hold for 4-1 with his first-serve percentage sitting at 89 per cent.
"Best performance of the tournament. As I was hoping after the long fourth round that I'm going to start playing better as the tournament progresses, and that's what's happening now."
When Thiem rolled a crosscourt backhand long it handed the top seed two set points. Thiem saved both but a double fault brought up set point No.3 and he would concede it 6-3 with a defensive forehand into the net.
Djokovic quickly pulled away to a 5-1 lead in the second, casting a steely stare at his crew when he secured the double break. He brought up two set points on serve when Thiem shanked a backhand and took a two-set lead with a backhand winner crosscourt.
Highlighting the Austrian's mercurial talent, a wild forehand whipped wide of the doubles alley was sandwiched between a pair of spectacular backhand winners down the line, seeing him to hold for 1-0 in the third.
A first double fault from Djokovic helped Thiem to his first break of the match and Thiem landed it with a heavily topspun forehand winner into the corner for 2-0. Spurred on by a vocal crowd desperate to prolong this clash, he comfortably held for 3-0.
Yet the joy was short-lived. He was broken for 2-3 as Djokovic ran away with five straight games.
Despite holding a break point to level the third set, back-to-back errors off the backhand wing brought Thiem unstuck and sent Djokovic through to his fourth Roland-Garros decider in five years where he will meet second seed Andy Murray.
"Well, we played two finals already on clay-court tournaments in Madrid and Rome back to back. We split wins," Djokovic said of his recent stoushes with the Scot.
"He has improved so much on the clay court over the years. I mean, this season is a great example of that.
"I'm sure that it's gonna be a final with a lot of emotions and a lot of exchanges from the baseline because we have similar styles of game."
For Thiem, a career-high ranking of No.7 is his reward for a breakthrough fortnight. It is a journey only just beginning and a benchmark at which to peg his progress.
"He was just too strong today. That's all I can say. But still it inspires me to even work harder. I hope I get a new chance soon in the future," Thiem said.
"Right now I'm feeling empty, of course, but it's normal. It's after every tournament like this, after all the pressure goes away a little bit.
"It's tough against him. He doesn't give you any presents. [His] return is unbelievable."
Huge strides made from the young Austrian. In a humble admission he knows he still has a way to go if he is in turn the man to eventually dethrone the great Serb.