PARIS, June 6, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Ruthless. That is the only way to describe fourth-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem’s performance against Russian 10th seed, Karen Khachanov. Thiem dropped just eight games in his hour-and-47-minute long quarter-final, winning 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.
Khachanov had no answers to give to the Austrian’s aggressiveness and since the time the match began, the end looked inevitable. Khachanov’s erroneousness also did not help steer the match in his direction. Thiem hit 29 winners to his opponent’s 17. In contrast, Khachanov had 37 unforced errors a little over three times as many as Thiem’s 12.
Asked in his post-match press conference about the tone of the match, Khachanov admitted Thiem was just too good for him. “I could have done better, but, you know, that’s always a question of how the other guy is playing. So, you know, I felt today that he’s one of the best on clay. You know, I felt it on court, not only talking. Because I was watching his matches, and I knew how he’s playing,” the World No. 11 said.
“But today was really tough for me. You know, he was always putting me in tough situations, tough situations for me to play aggressive. You know, I was never on the, like, on the stop, you know. 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 is the other guy playing, how is myself. That’s tennis.”
This is Thiem’s fourth consecutive semi-final appearance in Paris and he will be looking to making his second straight final in the French capital, against the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Serbinator Rights Brief Lull
Up to the ninth game of the first set, German Alexander Zverev and Serbia’s Djokovic were deadlocked in a who-will-blink-first battle. Surprisingly, it was the fifth seed who ended the shackle hold with a break of his opponent’s serve. That break of serve turned out to be the pivot that altered the match’s momentum entirely.
Djokovic broke right back as Zverev tried to serve for the set and, then, went on to win six games on the trot to take the first set 7-5 and lead the second set 3-0. By the time, Zverev had fought to put himself on the scoreboard in the fourth game of the second set, Djokovic was miles ahead both tactically and mentally. As a result, Zverev was only able to add three more games to his tally for what remained in the second set and in the third set, with Djokovic’s win – fittingly – coming off with a break of the 22-year-old’s serve in the eighth game of the third set.
Zverev rewound that moment in his post-match press conference. He said, “Yeah, I could have broken him I think earlier in the first set. I had a few 15-40s. Had a lot of breakpoints. You know, really thought that the first set should have gone my way. And then played three really bad games from there on. You know, then once he’s in control, he’s very tough to beat. He’s world no. 1 for a reason. Things happen, and it’s fine. At least I’m not injured this year, so I can prepare for the grass and hopefully do well there.”
This was Djokovic’s ninth French Open semi-final and first since 2016. He is attempting to win his second title in Paris and complete the non-calendar Slam for the second time in his career (after 2015-16). Djokovic is also the only player among the four semi-finalists to be still in the draw without losing a set.
In his post-match presser, the 32-year-old touched upon this potential milestone. He said, “Well, the presence I think of history-making is stronger than ever right now in my career. I think the longer I play or the further I go, I guess, in my career, the sense of history-making is only getting stronger. That’s one of the greatest motivations I have, obviously. I think there is no better way to make history of the sport than to win slams and play your best in the biggest events, and obviously try to stay no. 1 as long as you can. I mean, those are, results-wise, the pinnacle achievements that you can have in our sport.”
The completion of the semi-final line-up in Paris marks the first time since the 2012 Australian Open that the top four seeds have reached the penultimate round of an event on the Main Tour. Back in Melbourne in 2012, the top four seeds were Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray in that order.
In response to a question in his press conference about the highest seeds making it this far in the event, Thiem answered, “Yeah, just read before that it’s the first event since Australia 2012, I think. So, if something like that happens, it’s also a little bit of luck. I mean, I think all of — or me, I also had some tough moments in the first two rounds where it could also go the other way. But, well, it says nothing, I would say. It’s just luck. It happens, I don’t know, once in five years that the top four seeds of a tournament are ending up in the semi-finals together. But for me it’s amazing. As I said, I’m in the company with maybe the three best players of all time.”
This is also the first time since the 2012 French Open that the Big Three have reached the semi-final of a Major at the same time.