PARIS, June 8, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
It took four hours and 13 minutes of play interspersed with several rain delays and an entire day’s washout. But Austrian fourth seed Dominic Thiem finally got the job done at Roland Garros, as he defeated Serbia’s Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in the continuation of their Friday’s semi-final, on Saturday.
When play resumed on Saturday, after the controversial way how the day was cancelled in Paris, there was a palpable momentum shift. Thiem struggled to consolidate his break at 3-1 in the third set. However, Djokovic broke back in the seventh game and the set swerved from one player towards another. The World No. 4 got another chance to take a two-set-to-one lead as he broke Djokovic yet again in the 12th game to keep him at bay which he did so, to keep himself ahead in the match.
In the fourth set, the defending finalist looked like he held the upper hand but Djokovic, too, proved why he was the world’s best-ranked player. The 15-time Slam champion hit back and bounced back to level the match at two sets apiece. Djokovic entered into the final set with a commanding 9-1 win-to-loss record in his last 10 matches that had gone to the final set. On the other side of the net, Thiem was 6-6 in matches that had gone the distance. As such, the 2016 French Open champion looked like he would win yet another match in the decider on the day.
This supposition gained further credence when Djokovic broke Thiem early to go up 1-0 in the set. But that break yet again led to another shift in the winds of the match. Thiem broke right back and consolidated and repeated the action once again to take a 4-1 lead in the match. With Djokovic literally serving to stay in the match in the fifth game – having to save a break point – rain offered an intervention anew.
Play was delayed again for about an hour before restarting for the last time. The attrition in the match swings remained just as consistent as Djokovic regained the break back and held on for 5-all in the set. However, it was Thiem who closed out the match as he had begun it on Friday, with one last break of Djokovic’s serve in the 12th game of the set – after having held his serve to love in the previous game.
This is Thiem’s second straight final appearance in the French Open final. Thiem’s win halted Djokovic’s run of 26 consecutive match wins at the Slams, dating back to 2018 Wimbledon. Before his loss to the 25-year-old on Saturday, Djokovic had not dropped a set en route to the semi-final in Paris.
After his win, Thiem did not focus much on the fracas regarding the scheduling woes in the French capital. Speaking to reporters, post-match, he said, “No, I was not unhappy yesterday (Friday), because I went to the locker room with 3-1 lead in the third set. I just did the break. And, I mean, conditions were very, very tough yesterday. I think I never played in such a wind. It was supposed to rain. So, for me, it was a decent decision to interrupt. I was up. You know, I just did the break for 3-1. It was fine for me.”
Tournament’s scheduling comes under fire
Despite Thiem’s words, the French Open organisers received criticism all over again because of the lengthiness of the men’s semi-final led to the women’s final being pushed back. That the second semi-final could have been completed on Friday itself but for the organisers’ haphazard decision to cancel play came in the spotlight all over again.
In his post-match press conference, Djokovic did not answer questions posed to him about his supposed exit from the tournament grounds even before play could be cancelled on Friday. “I don’t know what time I left. I left when they canceled the match for the day,” Djokovic curtly said.
However, responding to questions about the differences in conditions of play between Friday and Saturday, Djokovic noted, “Obviously, when you’re playing in hurricane kind of conditions, you know, it’s hard to perform your best. You know, it’s really just kind of surviving in these kinds of conditions and trying to hold your serve and play, you know, one ball more than your opponent in the court. That’s what it felt like playing yesterday, to be honest. It is what it is…One of the worst conditions I have ever been part of. That’s all I can tell you.”