By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Austrian Dominic Thiem crushed Novak Djokovic’s French Open hopes as he survived a weather-ravaged semi-final spanning 24 hours to complete a 6-2 3-6 7-5 5-7 7-5 victory on Saturday and set up a repeat of last year’s showdown with Rafael Nadal.
More than an hour after the women’s final should have started on another stormy day on Court Philippe Chatrier, fourth seed Thiem thumped a forehand winner past Djokovic to convert his third match point.
It snapped Djokovic’s 26-match winning streak in Grand Slams and ended the Serbian’s hopes of holding all four of the sport’s major prizes simultaneously for the second time, having achieved it by winning his only French Open in 2016.
Djokovic, who had trailed 6-2 3-6 3-1 overnight after the semi-final had been curtailed on Friday because of rain and wind, had won his previous 10 Grand Slam semi-finals.
He described the weather conditions throughout the match as hurricane-like and the worst he had ever seen.
Thiem, who lost to Nadal in last year’s final, handled the elements better as he kept alive his dream of winning a first major title when he faces 11-times champion Nadal on Sunday.
“If you reach the final here it’s always against Rafa,” the 25-year-old said on court. “It was an amazing experience last year and I will try everything to be better this year.”
The second stanza of the match produced some scintillating tennis despite the teasing winds.
Djokovic got straight into his groove, broke back in the third game of the day and was denied another break at 4-4 when Thiem failed to put away two smashes then got an outrageous net cord off an audacious half-volley.
Under pressure in the 12th game Djokovic was given a time violation and then saved three set points. But a sensational forehand pass by Thiem gave him a fourth set point which he converted when his dipping backhand forced a volley error.
Djokovic erupted furiously at the umpire and was given a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The 15-times Grand Slam champion regained his composure to break serve twice in the fourth set but on both occasions the attacking Thiem hit back immediately.
Thiem double-faulted at 5-5 to gift Djokovic another break of serve and this time the Serbian made it stick to take the match into a deciding set.
The fifth set was as wild as the weather.
Thiem broke to move into a 4-1 lead and then had a point to lead 5-1, which Djokovic saved with a forehand.
Seconds later a howling rain squall sent the players off court for more than an hour and when they returned Thiem looked poised to win when serving at 5-3 and 40-15.
He crumbled, however, losing four points in a row and his chance appeared to have gone.
Somehow he put that behind him though and when Djokovic served at 5-6 he was the one who buckled. Two forehands thumped into the net to give Thiem a third match point and this time the Austrian finally sealed victory.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)