Djokovic embracing history and Thiem's 'Ringo Starr' threat
PARIS, France – Novak Djokovic admits he's within touching distance of history at Roland Garros but must first overcome Dominic Thiem, the Austrian who on Thursday, June 6, found himself being compared to Ringo Starr, the least heralded of the Beatles.
World No. 1 Djokovic reached his ninth Roland Garros semifinal, sweeping past Alexander Zverev, keeping his bid to become just the second man to hold all 4 Slams at the same time twice firmly on track.
Top seed Djokovic won 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 and will face Austrian 4th seed Thiem on Friday in what will be his 35th Grand Slam semifinal.
Thiem reached the semifinals for a fourth successive year with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory against Russian 10th seed Karen Khachanov.
But with this Roland Garros seeing Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all in the semifinals at the same Slam for the first time since the 2012 French Open, the Serb was asked if Thiem was the tennis equivalent of Ringo, a role previously filled by the absent Andy Murray.
Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, by extension, would be John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
"I'm sure some people would debate if Ringo Starr was the less famous. Some people liked him the most," said 32-year-old Djokovic.
"I don't know. That's what my parents tell me."
He added: "Dominic is deservedly where he is, one of the top 4 guys, especially on clay. That's where he's playing his best tennis.
"He's got that tremendous power in his game, especially with forehand and serve. I think backhand also has improved a lot in the last couple of years."
The problem for Djokovic now in his pursuit of a second title in Paris and 16th major is the weather.
Heavy rain is forecast to hit Paris again on Friday after Wednesday's washout.
However, that won't dampen Djokovic's ambition of emulating Rod Laver, the only man to have held all four Slams at the same time twice.
"The presence of history-making is stronger than ever right now in my career.
"That's one of the greatest motivations I have."
Friday's other semifinal will see Nadal and Federer resume their great rivalry, meaning this is the first time the top 4 seeds have all reached the last 4 at a Grand Slam since the 2013 Australian Open.
The last time Djokovic made the semifinals in Paris was 2016 when he went on to win the title.
He has a 6-2 career lead over Thiem and beat the Austrian in the Rome semi-finals in the run-up to Paris.
However, Thiem came out on top in the Roland Garros quarterfinals in straight sets in 2017.
Fifth seed Zverev, bidding to reach a maiden Slam semifinal and become the first German in the last-four in Paris since Michael Stich in 1996, made the stronger start.
The 22-year-old had break points in the third and fifth games of the opening set and finally broke through for a 5-4 lead.
But top seed Djokovic levelled immediately before claiming the set on a Zverev double fault.
Djokovic dominated the second set as breaks in the second and eighth games were enough to tighten his grip.
The world No. 1 saved two more break points in the opening game of the third set and again made the German pay with a break for 4-2.
Zverev's 40th and last unforced error proved to be the final point of the one-sided quarter-final.
"I expected more from this tournament but once the first set slipped away, it was difficult," said the German.
The world No. 5 finished with 8 double faults while converting just one of 8 break points.
Thiem was utterly dominant on Court Suzanne Lenglen, hammering 29 winners, as Khachanov contrived to tally 37 unforced errors and only 17 winners.
Thiem insists he will not be intimidated by Djokovic but was full of praise for his rival as well as Nadal and Federer who have a combined 52 Slam titles between them.
"I think that all 3 of them have something special around them because of all the success they had," he explained.
"I think that especially in the early rounds, they have a huge advantage only because of their name.
"Many players don't really believe, if they step on court, that they can beat them," added the 25-year-old who is chasing a maiden Grand Slam title. – Rappler.com