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Ricky’s Picks For The French Open Tennis Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Thiem

Dominic Thiem of Austria plays Karen Khachanov of Russia during their men’s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 06 June 2019. EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI



By Ricky Dimon


It may be the “other” French Open semifinal on Friday, but no one should be surprised if Novak Djokovic vs. Dominic Thiem turns out to be the better of the two matches.


Neither one of their first two Roland Garros meetings lived up to expectations, but it was not just Djokovic who was on the giving end of a beatdown. After the Serb dominated 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in the 2016 semis, Thiem returned the favor one year later by cruising 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-0 in the quarterfinals.


Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays Alexander Zverev of Germany during their men?s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 06 June 2019.  EPA-EFE/JULIEN DE ROSAOverall, Djokovic is leading the head-to-head series 6-2–including 3-2 on clay. They just met last month at the Madrid Masters, where the world No. 1 got the job done 7-6(2), 7-6(4) on his way to the title. Thiem’s other victory came at the 2018 Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 event via a 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3 decision.


Although Thiem looked vulnerable earlier this fortnight, he is now appears to be a future (and maybe even present, come Sunday afternoon) champion at GG that many in the tennis world tip him to become. After surviving Tommy Paul, Alexander Bublik, and Pablo Cuevas all in four tough sets, the fourth-ranked Austrian made mincemeat out of both Gael Monfils and Karen Khachanov without losing more than four games in any set.


“I think every match [I’ve gotten] better and better,” Thiem reflected. “(The) first two opponents were very tough because they also didn’t give (me) any rhythm and they didn’t have anything to lose. So these were two very tough matches. From the third round on, it got a lot better.”


Djokovic is perfect through five rounds, having eased past Hubert Hurkacz, Henri Laaksonen, Salvatore Caruso, Jan-Lennard Struff, and Alexander Zverev. The 2016 FO champ is 13-1 in his last 14 clay-court matches, with a loss only to Rafael Nadal in the Rome title match.


Thus the stage is set for a blockbuster semifinal lineup, which also includes Nadal vs. Roger Federer. Thiem may be the outsider among the four in terms of slam success and experience, but it’s obvious from his past RG performances and current form that he is the only other player who truly belongs with this elite group in the semis.


“Dominic is deservedly where he is–one of the top four guys, especially on clay,” Djokovic noted. “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 (his) backhand also has improved a lot in the last couple of years.


“(It) seems like his relationship with (new coach Nicolas) Massu has helped him a lot…also mentally, I think, in big matches; seems like it has been working really well. If he continues playing this way, not just on clay but in general, I think we will probably be seeing him more often on different surfaces in the final stages of the tournament.”


Will we see Thiem in the final? We did last sping, and he has been no less impressive on the red stuff in 2019. His recent exploits are highlighted by a title in Barcelona, where he beat Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the SFs.


Taking down Djokovic at Roland Garros may be even more difficult, but it is a feat Thiem has already accomplished once. And as well as Djokovic is playing at the moment, he still does not appear to be at his Australian Open-level dominance.


Pick: Thiem in 5


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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