Thiem keeps semis streak going

 - Dan Imhoff

Thiem powers through to a fourth straight Roland-Garros semi-final where he will meet Djokovic.

Dominic Thiem Roland Garros 2019 quarter-final©Philippe Montigny / FFT

The high-pitched screech builds to a steady crescendo, as one fan perched high in the stands of Court Suzanne-Lenglen can’t contain her excitement at Dominic Thiem’s savagely dipping forehand winner.

The noise fades only as the Austrian prepares to serve early in the third set, much like the sound of an old kettle whistling to the boil.

Laughter from the packed arena aside, the timing was appropriate.

The No.4 seed was sailing on his way to a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Russian Grand Slam quarter-final debutant, Karen Khachanov, on Thursday.

After lukewarm performances to ease his way into the tournament, Thiem was now well and truly on the boil as he set a semi-final showdown with top seed Novak Djokovic.

“I think every match I got better and better. First two opponents were very tough because they also didn't give any rhythm, and they didn't have anything to lose,” Thiem said.

“So these were two very tough matches. From the third round on, it got a lot better. And for sure the match against Gael [Monfils] and also today was very good. I'm happy with the way I'm playing.”

The task ahead is daunting to say the least.

Only three men have beaten two of the 'Big Three' to win a major – Nadal at Roland-Garros 2007 and 2008, Juan Martin del Potro at US Open 2009 and Djokovic at US Open 2011.

Thiem must become the first in 7.5 years if he is to lift his maiden slam trophy. It will be his fourth straight Roland-Garros semi-final.

“It's incredibly difficult to win a Grand Slam,” he said. “Especially for us players who didn't have one yet, because if everything goes quite normal, we have to beat two players with 15 or more Grand Slams. So I think everybody can imagine how difficult this is.”

Khachanov was coming off a big win over Del Potro and had his work cut out early if he was to become the first Russian man since Nikolay Davydenko 12 years ago to reach the last four in Paris.

Thiem had whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his baseline squash-shot tweener against Monfils two days prior.

While his winners were more textbook, less trick shot, on Friday, he promptly drew a standing ovation from his team and parts of the Lenglen faithful on when he opened his shoulders to rip an extraordinary angled off-forehand winner, which barely cleared the tape and dipping onto the sideline to take the opening set 6-2.

Khachanov, who had won the pair’s only prior meeting en route to the Paris Masters 1000 title indoors last year, showed great wheels for his 6’6” frame.

He scrambled every inch of the court before Thiem ended a searching rally with a low volley winner into the open court for 2-all in the second.

And at 4-all, the Russian was feeling the pinch as he over-ambitiously pulled the trigger to fire three errors before the Austrian broke and served out the set.

The kettle was boiling as Thiem romped through the third set; going for sharper angles and whipping his heavy forehands at will to leave the 23-year-old opponent with few answers.

“Today was really tough for me. You know, he was always putting me in tough situations, tough situations for me to play aggressive,” Khachanov said. “I was always on the side.

“Yeah, of course, I could have done better. I could maybe miss less, make more winners. But that's always a question when you know how the other guy is playing, how is myself [playing]. That's tennis.”

Thiem is back in familiar territory. He owns wins over each of the Big Three, but only once has he beaten any of them at a slam – Djokovic in the quarter-finals of Roland-Garros 2017.

“I mean, these three, they are doing it since, I don't know, 10, 15 years almost at any Grand Slam,” he said. “So that shows what their level is. So they are absolutely amazing.

“I know all three of them. I have played many, many times against all of them. I feel really good in their company. But I'm trying everything to beat them.”