PARIS (Reuters) - Austrian claycourt specialist Dominic Thiem has done the ‘easy’ part by reaching the French Open semi-final for the fourth straight year — now for the hard bit.
The fourth seed has looked increasingly assured after a sluggish start to the tournament and crushed the hopes of Russian Karen Khachanov in ruthless fashion on Thursday.
Unfortunately for Thiem, the three other players left in the draw are undisputed king of clay Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and world number one Novak Djokovic, whom he faces on Friday.
Between them they have 52 Grand Slam titles and have shared the last nine. Thiem is still seeking his first.
“I’m in the semi-finals with maybe the three best players of all time, so everybody can see how tough the way it is for me,” Thiem told reporters after his 6-2 6-4 6-2 defeat of Khachanov.
“I’m fourth time now in the semi-finals. And I was playing Djokovic, Nadal, (Marco) Cecchinato and Djokovic which is really tough. It’s incredibly difficult to win a Grand Slam.
“Because especially for us players who didn’t have one yet, because if everything goes quite normal, we have to beat two players with 15 or more Grand Slams each.”
The way he played against Frenchman Gael Monfils in the last 16 and Khachanov in the quarter-finals bodes well.
But Serbian Djokovic is yet to drop a set and has found some ominous form as he attempts to hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously for the second time in his career.
Thiem will take some heart as he has beaten him once at Roland Garros, in straight sets in the 2017 quarter-final when a below-par Djokovic capitulated 6-0 in the third set.
He knows it will be a much-better version on Friday.
“I hope it’s going to be positive in the end, but the challenge is huge,” Thiem said. “Novak is in very good shape again, probably playing his best tennis of his life.”
Thiem, who gave Nadal some awkward moments in last year’s final before the Spaniard claimed his 11th French title, is being coached by Chilean Olympic gold medallist Nicolas Massu.
He says the south American’s positivity is creating the pefect environment to try and land his first Grand Slam title.
“Great energy coming from outside when I’m playing the matches,” the 25-year-old Thiem said.
Thiem has lived up to his fourth-seeding, his highest at a Grand Slam, and says he is comfortable in such elevated company.
“I know all three of them. Have played many, many times against all of them and feel really good in their company. But I’m trying everything to beat them.”
Djokovic knows he may have to de-select cruise control when he takes on Thiem for the ninth time, especially having suffered two defeats on the Austrian’s favoured clay.
“He is derservedly where he is , one of the top four guys,” Djokovic said. “Especially on clay. He’s got that tremendous
power in his game, especially with forehand and serve.
“If he continues playing this way I think we will probably be seeing him more often on different surfaces in the final stages of the tournament.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis