Thiem beats Djokovic in five

Austrian into second straight RG final against Nadal after five-set defeat of world No.1.

Dominic Thiem - Roland-Garros 2019 - demi-finale©Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Ian Chadband

Dominic Thiem destroyed Novak Djokovic’s dream of once again holding all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously by earning the most dramatic of five-set semi-final triumphs over the world No.1 at Roland-Garros on Saturday.

It took the Austrian nearly four-and-a-quarter hours over two windy, rain-interrupted days, but Thiem was eventually left exultant to set up the chance to avenge his defeat in last year’s Paris final against Rafael Nadal by earning a nail-biting 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 triumph over the Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon champion Djokovic that extinguished all hope of a second ‘Novak Slam’.

More satisfying still for Thiem, he earned his rematch with the 11-time champion after a contest that even the maddening weather delays couldn’t stop being seen as probably the most brilliant of the entire championship. “Epic,” he called it - and he wasn’t wrong.

“It was my first five-setter in Roland Garros, an epic match. I mean, so many ups and downs and rain, going back to the locker, on court again. Somehow I had the feeling that I had the lead in the whole match, and then at the end it got so tough. And at the end, both of us could win, and I luckily got the better in the end.”

Adorned with supremely athletic rallies and virtuoso shot-making, the  remarkable, sapping affair ultimately came down to a test of nerve and spirit and, for once, the never-say-die Djokovic, who battled magnificently to save two match points as Thiem served for the match at 5-3 in the decider, had to give best in that area to the superbly calm No.4 seed.

And although Thiem has been here before in a Grand Slam showdown, this still really did feel like a landmark moment for the 25-year-old, who was the model of focus throughout as, in the most trying of circumstances, he took down one of the trio of other semi-finalists that he described as perhaps the greatest in history.

Now he has another one to face. Again. “To play Rafa here on this court is always the ultimate challenge, one of the toughest challenges in sports,” said Thiem.

“It's an unbelievable opportunity. I said last year that I hope to get another chance in a Grand Slam final and do better then, so tomorrow there is the chance. I think it's really important that I go into the match with the belief to win. That's the most important thing.

“I’m still feeling fine, I’m still full of adrenaline. I’m not going to be tired, I’m ready to leave everything I have out on the court tomorrow.”

Djokovic had represented the toughest of build-ups. Across the net, in a volatile mood while battling back from the brink a couple of times, he never looked quite at his focused best as he ended up arguing with the umpire and collecting both time and unsportsmanlike conduct violations at the end of the third set.

While he seemed to be battling with himself and the conditions as well as trying to repel Thiem’s barrage of 52 winners, though, Djokovic had no complaints as he finally saw his extraordinary run of 26 Grand Slam match wins ended.

“I don't want to point out some reasons or find excuses for this loss. I mean, he took it, he won it, and well done to him,” said Djokovic. “Credit to him. He just played the right shots and put me out of the comfortable position in the court, and then he could open up as he did in the match point and finish off with a forehand winner.

“Congratulations to him. He's playing great tennis. He showed why he's one of the best players in the world, and I wish him all the best for the final.”

Resuming at one set-all and 1-3 down in the match that had to be suspended on Friday because of high winds and rain, Djokovic, who had cut a distracted figure then, again never seemed completely settled on another difficult day even if he appeared in a more resolute mood.

“One of the worst conditions I have ever been part of,” he said of Friday’s fare, when he was shocked to even see an umbrella flying across his path on court. 

Though conditions were nowhere near that bad on the resumption, he eventually lost a see-saw third set and needed to be at his most resilient to level affairs.

The contest finally seemed at Thiem’s mercy when he powered 4-1 ahead in the final set but immediately after he had forced Djokovic to save a break point, the rains came again.

After another frustrating 70-minute delay on the verge of Thiem’s win, Djokovic fought back to level the match at 5-5 and looked to be the favourite as he started attacking more at the net on the resumption but his boldness may have worked against him as he ended up looking the more tired of the pair in the final exchanges, with Thiem wrapping up arguably the biggest win of his burgeoning career.

The mountain hasn't been remotely climbed yet, though. “He's the favourite, of course, but it’s a big dream for me tomorrow to win that title,” said Thiem looking ahead to his 13th career battle against Nadal. “I think I don’t make myself too much pressure!"