Dominic Thiem, who?
To those who closely keep watch on the big guns, he is just but one of the so-so guys on the circuit. But from now on, expect his name to ring louder.
By shocking defending champion Novak Djokovic, the sixth-seeded player from Austria is into the semifinals of the French Open.
The 23-year-old Thiem dazzled with savvy on clay as he tamed Djokovic in straight sets, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-0.
One big fish caught. But let’s see if he can trap a bigger one waiting in the next round.
That is none other than the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, whom Thiem faces in the last four.
The Austrian considers the fourth-seeded Nadal as his “toughest opponent ever’’ even though he is the only player to beat the Spanish ace on clay this season.
But Nadal has transformed into his best form having yielded just 22 games as he continues to be on course towards a record 10th men’s title.
Nadal progressed to the semis after countryman Pablo Busta quit due to injury in their last-eight match.
In another match, world No. 1 Andy Murray clawed his way back from a first-set debacle to frustrate Kei Nishikori, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-1, and set up a semis showdown with Swiss third seed Stan Wawrinka, a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 winner over seventh seed Marin Cilic of Croatia.
It will be a repeat of last year’s semis which Murray won in four sets before eventually losing to Djokovic in the final.
At 32, Wawrinka is the oldest man to enter the last four since American Jimmy Connors in 1985.
The three-time Grand Slam champion won the Roland Garros title in 2015, and good news for him in this staging is he has still not dropped a set.
“I mean, it’s a joke how tough it is to win a slam,’’ Thiem, said. “Because obviously now I beat Novak. On Friday is Nadal. In the finals there is another top star. That’s why it’s a slam because it’s such a tough achievement.’’
Making life hard for opponents with his single-handed backhand, Thiem added he needs to work on his defense against Nadal whose ferocious topspin forehand rattled him no end in their previous engagements.
Thiem said he won’t allow Nadal to get his favorite positions on the forehand when they cross paths in the semis.
“I mean, it’s one of the best shots I think ever in tennis. So anyway, you cannot avoid it all the time. I will concede some winners on Friday,’’ he also added.
Thiem, like Nadal, has yet to drop a set at the tournament and this will give him plenty of confidence as he tries to land a final seat.
The Austrian battled back from a 2-4 deficit in the first set, and saved two set points on serve at 4-5. In a nervy tie-break, Thiem held his poise and sealed the 76-minute opener when Djokovic was stymied by his 18th unforced error when he backhanded into the net.
Thiem breezed to a 4-1 lead in the second set. Despite Djokovic inching to within 2-4, Thiem persevered to gain a 5-3 cushion. The Austrian then won seven straight games as Djokovic’s backhand faded.