Dominic Thiem played with great discipline and control to neutralise the power of Karen Khachanov on Thursday for a place in his fourth consecutive Roland Garros semi-final.
The fourth-seeded Austrian regularly stepped in on returns to overcome No. 10 seed Khachanov 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 47 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.
Thiem, who finished as runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 final, will now prepare to challenge World No. 1 and 2016 champion Novak Djokovic. The Serbian defeated fifth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in straight sets on Thursday afternoon. Read Match Report
“I’m now in the semi-finals for the fourth time,” said Thiem. “It’s incredibly difficult to win a Grand Slam, especially for us players who haven’t won one yet, because if everything goes quite normal, we have to beat two players with 15 or more Grand Slam [titles].
“But I will step on the court tomorrow, try everything, of course, [and] give everything. I hope it’s going to be positive in the end, but the challenge is huge. Novak is in very good shape again, probably playing the best tennis of his life. 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.”
Djokovic leads 6-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, but both of Thiem’s wins have come on clay. They’ve split their two previous meetings at this event. Djokovic prevailed in the 2016 semi-finals and Thiem turned the tables in the 2017 quarter-finals. The World No. 1 won their most recent clash last month in the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals.
Thiem comfortably handled the power of Khachanov, mixing up his groundstroke pace and spin to break serve in the third and seventh games of the 33-minute first set. The Austrian converted his second set point opportunity with a terrific angle off a forehand into the Ad court.
Thiem continued to make gains on first-serve returns and at 4-4 in the second set caught Khachanov out by ripping a backhand with extra pace down the line. Minutes later, consecutive return errors from Khachanov handed Thiem a commanding lead.
A double fault from Khachanov cost the first-time major quarter-finalist in the fifth game of the third set, and the Russian later dropped his serve to love at 2-4 to propel Thiem to victory.
“I felt today that he’s one of the best on clay,” said Khachanov. “I felt it on court, not only talking. Because I was watching his matches, and I knew how he’s playing. Today was really tough for me. He was always putting me in tough situations for me to play aggressive… Of course, I could have done better. I could maybe miss less, make more winners. But that’s always a question when you know how is the other guy playing.”
Thiem struck 24 winners and committed just 11 unforced errors against Khachanov, who beat the Austrian en route to his first ATP Masters 1000 title in November 2018 at the Rolex Paris Masters.
The 25-year-old Thiem has improved with each match this fortnight and is now in full flight, having dropped a set in each of his first two matches to players outside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings (Tommy Paul and Alexander Bublik).
“I think every match I got better and better,” said Thiem. “[My] first two opponents were very tough because they also didn’t give any rhythm, and they didn’t have anything to lose. So these were two very tough matches. From the third round on, it got a lot better. And for sure the match against Gael [Monfils] and also today was very good. I’m happy with the way I’m playing.”
The Austrian has once again turned in a solid clay-court season. In addition to his semi-final finish in Madrid, he defeated Rafael Nadal en route to taking the title at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell without dropping a set (d. Medvedev). Thiem continues to excel at Roland Garros and holds a 21-3 record here since 2016. By reaching his fourth Grand Slam semi-final, he tied Thomas Muster’s record for most major semi-final appearances by an Austrian player, man or woman.
Thiem’s also won eight of his past nine matches against Top 20 players, with two of those victories coming this fortnight. Last month’s loss against Djokovic is the only defeat in that stretch.