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Tennis • Federer? Thiem? Zverev? Who Can Stop Djokovic At The Australian Open?

By Ricky Dimon

Can anyone stop Novak Djokovic from winning Australian Open title No. 8?

Roger Federer gets the next shot on Thursday night, but Federer has already endured two five-setters this fortnight and appears to be running on fumes. The 38-year-old is coming off a quarterfinal thriller against Sandgren in which he saved a ridiculous seven match points all while dealing with a groin issue.

Alexander Zverev could be one of the roadblocks for Djokovic, but the seventh-ranked German has never previously played in a Grand Slam semifinal. To say his experience is lacking would be a gross understatement.

Perhaps the most likely candidate to knock off Djokovic is Dominic Thiem, who has been the leader of the next generation’s door-knocking in recent seasons. The younger guys have not yet knocked that door down, but they made progress in 2019 and now it looks like Thiem could be the one to finish the job at the Big 3’s expense.

The 26-year-old ousted one of those Big 3 members during quarterfinal action on Wednesday. He upset world No. 1 Rafael Nadal 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6) after four hours and 10 minutes to set up a showdown against Zverev.

Thiem took all three tiebreakers to earn a second career major victory over a world No. 1 (also beat Djokovic in the 2019 French Open semifinals). Now he is one win away from a third major final (0-2 in French Open finals, both against Nadal), two away from a maiden slam title.

“I don’t feel really like that I broke a barrier,” the fifth-seeded Austrian admitted. “It was just an unbelievable match…. I think on a very high level from both of us. That’s what I’m most happy about. Also, of course, that I’m for the first time in the semis of Australian Open. That’s for me a barrier.

“But to really break a barrier, one young player has to win a slam. Yeah, one of us (is) going to be in the finals. But it’s still a very long way to go. I mean, other semifinals is still two of the Big 3. I think we are still a pretty long way from overtaking or from breaking this kind of barrier.”

They would have been even farther away if Thiem had thrown this one away, which would have been salt in the wound of a younger generation after Tennys Sandgren blew seven match points against a hobbled Federer on Tuesday.

Thiem thought about throwing it away, and maybe a less experienced version of himself would have. But he didn’t.

Maybe it’s finally his time.

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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