9 sets is what Djokovic needs to achieve what Andre Agassi calls the “Holy Grail of Tennis” – The Career Slam. 9 sets is what Dominic Thiem needs to become the youngest slam winner on the ATP tour since Juan Martin Delpotro in 2009. The countdown has officially begun for the final lap of the French Open 2016. This is when the Champions generally tend to separate themselves from the also-rans. Djokovic is very familiar with it, as the 11 grandslams would attest. Dominic Thiem will have an opportunity to show us if he can join that league.
Djokovic finally wrapped up his, what has now become customary, mid-major wobble. As he has been doing for about 28 slams in a row, he won the final point of the pre-quarterfinal. Bautista-Agut definitely made the most of Djokovic’s hesitant start, two days ago, and pushed Djokovic to the brink of a 5th set. The World No.1 will be very happy he did not have to go another gruelling set with the gritty Spaniard, given that he will likely have to play 3 best of 5 matches in consecutive days.
The 11 slam champion will be facing a familiar foe in Tomas Berdych, who is definitely playing some good tennis – something that seemed unlikely 2 weeks ago, in Rome, when he was beaten 0 and 0 by David Goffin. On the surface, this seems a rivalry Djokovic would enjoy. He is 23-2 against Czech No.1, however their face-off on the dirt is a very close 2-1 in Djokovic’s favour. All three of those encounter were decided in a 3rd set decider.
Another factor that should give hope to the 2010 Wimbledon finalist is the slow, heavy conditions that give the power players a distinct advantage. Berdych has been impressive in his last two rounds – beating Cuevas and Ferrer – two proven players on the red clay, in routine fashion.
One is inclined to believe that the rock bottom that Berdych hit in Rome, must have liberated the Czech to some extent and given him the mindset to be more aggressive – a mindset that generally leads to best results for players with the ammunition that Berdych possesses. If Djokovic starts like he did against Roberto Bautista-Agut, there is a good chance Berdych will make Djokovic pay a heavy price.
Prediction: As I had mentioned earlier, the countdown has begun and Djokovic has proven more often than Berdych, that he brings the goods in this stage of the tournament. Berdych might trouble Djokovic for a set, but I expect Djokovic to take care of business in less than 4 sets.
The Other End Of The Journey Of Greatness
Dominic Thiem is at the other end of the greatness journey, compared to Novak Djokovic. He has carefully put together a good season on clay – a very good one considering Thiem’s age and the stage of career he is at. He caught a big break with the unfortunate withdrawal of 9 time champion Rafael Nadal. So, what is he going to do with the proverbial lemon thrown at him?
His first test was against an opponent he had never lost to. His next hurdle, though, gets tougher, as one would expect. David Goffin, like his game, has got to the quarterfinal without much pomp and flash. Along the way he has toughed out a 5 set match against a big hitter like Almagro and a 4 set come from behind win against the unpredictable Gulbis.
Goffin leads their, rather young rivalry, 4-2 but they are tied 1-1 on clay with Thiem winning their most recent encounter on clay – in Gstaad, Switzerland, 2015. Goffin, however won their biggest match – a third rounder in Australian Open, earlier this year. An added importance to the match will be a top 10 entry for the winner.
Prediction: Thiem is the one with more firepower and in the heavy conditions, the player with the firepower does have an advantage, however being their 2nd best of 5 set match in 2days, it could come down to fitness as well. I will take the riskier option and take Goffin in 4 tough sets.