23-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem, who took the tennis world by storm two weeks ago when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the Rome quarterfinals, has done it again, this time upsetting defending champion and World #2 Novak Djokovic in the French Open quarterfinals.
This is not the shock it could have been. After all, Thiem showed us just two weeks ago what he is capable of. Then again, the Austrian followed up his huge win in Rome with a 6-0 6-1 loss to Djokovic the next day. The pair also met in last year’s semifinals at Roland Garros, with Djokovic winning that in straight sets. They had met five times before today, and Thiem had never once managed to beat Djokovic, winning only one set in all those matches–in a tiebreak at last year’s World Tour Finals. So while this might not be a huge shock, it was far from expected either.
The match started slowly, with both players hitting big shots and pushing the other. The pair traded breaks in the first set, before it eventually moved towards a tiebreak–though Thiem had to save set points while serving down 4-5. The tiebreak was a bit of a nervy affair. Both players were hitting big shots, but we also saw lots of backhand errors. Eventually, Djokovic put a backhand into the net while serving down 5-6, and that was the end of the tiebreak.
Djokovic opened up a 0-30 lead on Thiem’s first service game of the second set, but everything was downhill for the Serbian from there. Thiem held, then broke the next games. Djokovic was not able to break Thiem in the next few games, and all of a sudden it was a two sets to love lead. Djokovic didn’t even show up in the third set, losing it 6-0.
For Thiem, this is a massive step forward. He reached the semifinals here last year, but this is by far the best win he’s earned at a Slam so far in his career. His reward? A chance to face nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in a semifinal. Nadal advanced to the semifinal when his quarterfinal opponent, Pablo Carreno-Busta, had to retire with injury in the second set. Neither Thiem nor Nadal has dropped a set yet this tournament, setting us up for a stellar semifinal match.
For Djokovic, the questions just keep on coming. He has now only reached one Grand Slam semifinal in the past year (he reached the US Open final in 2016). He lost in the third round of Wimbledon last year and the second round of the Australian Open this year. Exactly one year ago, he held the title in all four Grand Slams. Now, the Serbian holds zero. His performance in the third set was disappointing in the extreme, and shows that there is something seriously wrong with the mental aspects of the game right now. He was flat-out beaten on court, something we really haven’t seen (aside from the second set of last year’s Wimbledon loss) since before 2011 from him. He has hired Andre Agassi to try and help him out of his funk, and it’s clear that that help can’t come soon enough.
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