Djokovic embracing history at Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic (AP)
Novak Djokovic (AP)

Paris - Novak Djokovic admits he's within touching distance of history at Roland Garros but must first overcome Dominic Thiem, the Austrian who on Thursday found himself being compared to Ringo Starr, the least heralded of the Beatles.

World number one Djokovic reached his ninth Roland Garros semi-final, sweeping past Alexander Zverev, keeping his bid to become just the second man to hold all four Slams at the same time twice firmly on track.

Top seed Djokovic won 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 and will face Austrian fourth seed Thiem on Friday in what will be his 35th Grand Slam semi-final.

Thiem reached the semi-finals for a fourth successive year with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory against Russian 10th seed Karen Khachanov.

But with this Roland Garros seeing Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all in the semi-finals at the same Slam for the first time since the 2012 French Open, the Serb was asked if Thiem was the tennis equivalent of Ringo, a role previously filled by the absent Andy Murray.

Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, by extension, would be John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

"I'm sure some people would debate if Ringo Starr was the less famous. Some people liked him the most," said 32-year-old Djokovic.

"I don't know. That's what my parents tell me."

He added: "Dominic is deservedly where he is, one of the top four guys, especially on clay. That's where he's playing his best tennis. 

"He's got that tremendous power in his game, especially with forehand and serve. I think backhand also has improved a lot in the last couple of years."

The problem for Djokovic now in his pursuit of a second title in Paris and 16th major is the weather.

Heavy rain is forecast to hit Paris again on Friday after Wednesday's washout.

However, that won't dampen Djokovic's ambition of emulating Rod Laver, the only man to have held all four Slams at the same time twice.

"The presence of history-making is stronger than ever right now in my career. 

"That's one of the greatest motivations I have."

Friday's other semi-final will see Nadal and Federer resume their great rivalry, meaning this is the first time the top four seeds have all reached the last four at a Grand Slam since the 2013 Australian Open.

The last time Djokovic made the semi-finals in Paris was 2016 when he went on to win the title.

He has a 6-2 career lead over Thiem and beat the Austrian in the Rome semi-finals in the run-up to Paris.

However, Thiem came out on top in the Roland Garros quarter-finals in straight sets in 2017.

Fifth seed Zverev, bidding to reach a maiden Slam semi-final and become the first German in the last-four in Paris since Michael Stich in 1996, made the stronger start.

The 22-year-old had break points in the third and fifth games of the opening set and finally broke through for a 5-4 lead.

But top seed Djokovic levelled immediately before claiming the set on a Zverev double fault.

Djokovic dominated the second set as breaks in the second and eighth games were enough to tighten his grip.

The world number one saved two more break points in the opening game of the third set and again made the German pay with a break for 4-2.

Zverev's 40th and last unforced error proved to be the final point of the one-sided quarter-final.

"I expected more from this tournament but once the first set slipped away, it was difficult," said the German.

The world number five finished with eight double faults while converting just one of eight break points.

Thiem was utterly dominant on Court Suzanne Lenglen, hammering 29 winners, as Khachanov contrived to tally 37 unforced errors and only 17 winners.

Thiem insists he will not be intimidated by Djokovic but was full of praise for his rival as well as Nadal and Federer who have a combined 52 Slam titles between them.

"I think that all three of them have something special around them because of all the success they had," he explained.

"I think that especially in the early rounds, they have a huge advantage only because of their name.

"Many players don't really believe, if they step on court, that they can beat them," added the 25-year-old who is chasing a maiden Grand Slam title.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
loading... Live
Kaizer Chiefs 1
Moroka Swallows 1
loading... Live
SuperSport United 0
TTM FC 0
Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Rugby
40% - 14013 votes
Cricket
13% - 4356 votes
Football
19% - 6511 votes
Athletics
3% - 898 votes
Boxing
1% - 336 votes
Cycling
2% - 808 votes
Golf
5% - 1756 votes
Motorsport
9% - 2959 votes
Tennis
3% - 1212 votes
Water sports
1% - 318 votes
American sports
1% - 433 votes
MMA / WWE / UFC
3% - 1163 votes
Vote