If ever you were to see a classic game of tennis, the first set of today’s Novak Djokovic vs Dominic Thiem quarter-final would be your ideal go-to. Consisting of stupendous hitting and destructive returns, it was a treat to watch; tennis of the highest level was being played. Both the players traded breaks and holds with games being stretched to seventh deuces; redefining neck to neck encounters.
At 5-4 Djokovic had two set points to break the youngster for the third time in the match and seal the opening set but Thiem had plans of his own. He refused to surrender and a beautiful volley and powerful serve later the set points had come and gone for Djokovic. In the end a 6-6 result meant that the fate of the marathon set would be decided by a tiebreak. There was nothing to separate the world No.2 from the world no.7 till at 5-4 the Austrian broke away to bring up a set point, eventually winning the battle of evens 7-5 in the tiebreak. The 76 minute epic seemed to sap the energy out of the defending champion. He had missed a number of backhands down the line and his opponent’s speed, power and accuracy was doing nothing to help him either. The 23 year old was hitting the ball extremely well on the other hand, his one handed backhand picking out the right spots more often than not.
Thiem did not relent after winning a set against the 12-time Major Champion only for the second time in his career. He secured the all important break in only the second game of the subsequent set with an unbelievable backhand winner that landed just on the left sideline, sending the Serb on his knees trying to reach out for the ball. From there on it was just holding onto his serve for the 2016 semi-finalist which he clinically accomplished. Djokovic had his chances at breaking even but the sheer number of his unforced errors combined with his adversary’s crunching winners made it impossible. However, Djokovic being the player he is was expected to make a comeback, to raise his game when it mattered most.
That did not happen; instead the Serb seemed to lose it completely after losing his service game at the very outset of the third set courtesy a netted forehand, the player on court was less than a shadow of the man who had won a career Slam on these premises last year. For once Novak was not the player we have known, the great we have admired. He surrendered a bagel to Thiem, thus ending his French Open defense in the most unceremonious manner possible. The exodus of his team and the subsequent appointment of Andre Agassi as his mentor had paid dividends until now. Djokovic seemed to hit a wall during the match, instead of being the rock solid obstacle like he was for the youngster at the semis last year. Everything aside, it is now Thiem’s time to shine as he locks horns with Rafael Nadal who seems to be playing on another level altogether. The Austrian being the only person to have had an upper hand over the King this clay season will have the weight of expectations to reiterate the performance. As for Djokovic, he has the ability to turn things around which he will, it remains to be seen how quickly he can do so.