Novak Djokovic’s dream of becoming just the second man in history to hold all Grand Slam titles at the same time twice was crushed by Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros on Saturday.
Thiem downed the world number one 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 to set up a repeat of last year’s final against 11-time winner and defending champion Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic, who was second best to Thiem when it came to mastering the gloom, wind and damp of Paris, was bidding to join Rod Laver in the Grand Slam history books.
However, it’s 25-year-old Austrian fourth seed Thiem who goes on to face Nadal where he will be buoyed by having defeated the 17-time major winner four times on clay in his career.
He will also attempt to become just Austria’s second Grand Slam men’s champion after Thomas Muster won in Paris in 1995.
Thiem did it the hard way, squandering a 4-1 final set lead and two match points before he sealed his place in the final.
“It was an amazing match. It was my first five-set match at Roland Garros so it was a good one to have,” said Thiem after the four hour 13-minute match which was played over two days.
“To be in the semi-finals with the three best players of all time (Nadal beat Roger Federer in the other semi on Friday) is really amazing.”
On the challenge of facing Nadal, who has had a day more to recover, he added: “It seems that anyone who gets to the final here plays Rafa.
“He will be the favourite but I hope to just leave it all out on the court again and we will see.”
The semi-final had been controversially suspended overnight Friday with Djokovic complaining about the ‘extreme wind’ in the stadium.
When play was halted, with the top seed trailing 1-3 in the third set, there was still around two hours of daylight remaining.
AFP / Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD All over for Novak Djokovic
However, tournament organisers defended the decision after winds of up to 80km/h were forecast throughout the evening in Paris.
– ‘Hurricane conditions’ –
“I congratulate Dominic, he played great, especially in the important moments,” said Djokovic.
“Obviously, when you’re playing in hurricane-like conditions it’s hard to play your best.”
On the resumption Saturday, Djokovic retrieved the break in the seventh game but slipped behind again in the match when Thiem converted a fourth set point.
For his pains, the Serb picked up a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct having already been slapped with a time violation.
Djokovic broke for a 2-1 lead in the fourth set only for the Austrian to level courtesy of an outrageous net cord which flew over the stranded Serb’s head.
The top seed broke again for 3-2, held for 4-2 but the dogged Thiem would not relent and brought the set back on serve at 4-4.
However, Djokovic prevailed to send the match into a decider.
With the bulk of crowd support behind him, Thiem dug deep and stretched to a 4-1 lead in the decider as Djokovic’s error count at the net piled up.
Rain then forced the players off for just over an hour.
Djokovic rallied to break for 3-4 but handed the initiative right back, allowing Thiem to serve for the match.
The Austrian had two match points but choked as Djokovic went to 5-5.
There was one final twist as Djokovic’s 53rd unforced error on a wild forehand set up a third match point which the Austrian gobbled up with his 52nd winner.
Nadal had powered past Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 as the 33-year-old booked a 12th appearance in the championship match.
He could also move to within two of Federer on the all-time Grand Slam title winners’ list with an 18th major on Sunday.