MADRID, May 11, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic showed glints of his supremacy on clay, as he defeated Dominic Thiem 7-6(2), 7-6(4) in the semi-final of the Mutua Madrid Open on Saturday. And while the score read straight sets in favour of the Serbian, the match shifted momentum constantly with both opponents engaging in a tug-of-war-like tussle to battle it through. In a way, Djokovic claiming the win also made for a surprise given the events leading up to this match-up.
Of the two players, it was Thiem who was in imperious form ahead of the match. He was fresh from his win at the Barcelona Open (that featured an upset over Rafael Nadal). Likewise, his quarter-final defeat over Roger Federer in the Spanish capital also boosted his prospects of potentially clinching the second Masters 1000 title of his career, here.
Though, in the end, Djokovic had come with his own plans that he executed well to reach his second final of the 2019 season despite starting slowly. The match had three breaks of serve each. But where Djokovic converted all three break points he had, Thiem wasted as many as seven break point chances of the 10 he had in total although he did well to convert break points in the crucial 12th game of the second set in which Djokovic was serving for the match.
Speaking of, the 15-time Grand Slam champion who had to come from a break down across both sets also received a couple of time violations which he brushed aside well in time to take the victory. The 31-year-old had fewer winners than Thiem, 17 to 26 but the reduced number of unforced errors 29 of Djokovic to Thiem’s 39 made the difference in determining the victor.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 11. Mai 2019
This was Djokovic’s first triumph over Thiem in almost three years despite leading their head-to-head 5-2. The two previous times they had faced each other, the 25-year-old Austrian had defeated Djokovic. In 2017, in the French Open quarter-finals, Thiem had ousted Djokovic in straight sets 7-5, 6-3, 6-0. And in 2018, in the pre-quarter-final of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, Thiem had upset his older rival 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3.
Speaking on-court post-match, Djokovic downplayed soaring expectations after the results as he said, “I thought that Thiem was the favorite after Barcelona and his win over Federer. I’m still finding my form in clay.” This is Djokovic’s third final in Madrid (after 2011 and 2016). Interestingly, each time he has made it to the last Sunday of the tournament, the Monte Carlo resident has gone on to hoist the title.
“I played the best match of the clay-court season so far, for me, against arguably the best tennis player in the world on this surface, so far [this season],” said Djokovic, as quoted on the ATP Tour website. “[Dominic] had an amazing tournament in Barcelona and here he beat Roger yesterday in a thrilling match. So, he was in form… I just managed to hold my nerves and play the best when it was most needed.”
Djokovic now awaits Stefanos Tsitsipas or familiar nemesis Rafael Nadal in the final. As it so happens, in 2011, the Belgrade native had defeated Nadal to win his first title at the Caja Magica