Djokovic’s Second Run at “Nole Slam” Falls Short in Tense Five-Setter

Questions arose during the match over Djokovic's treatment of the chair umpire

Novak Djokovic Umpire French Open
Novak Djokovic reacts to a line call during his semifinal match against Dominic Thiem at the French Open
Clive Mason / Getty

In a marathon match that began Friday morning before being suspended twice for rain — once in the third set yesterday, and again in the fifth set today — Austrian Dominic Thiem defeated world no. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 to reach his second consecutive French Open Final.

Thiem will next face Rafael Nadal, who defeated him at Roland Garros in the final last year. Unlike just about every other man on tour, there is hope for Thiem against history’s greatest clay-court player. He has beaten the Spaniard four times on the surface (second only to Djokovic’s seven), including a 6-4, 6-4 win earlier this season in Barcelona.

The Austrian is consistently clocked as one of the hardest-hitting players on tour, a fact he made resoundingly clear against Djokovic, who looked overwhelmed by his opponent’s power and depth of shot at times, including on the match’s final point: Thiem coolly stroked a 93-mph forehand winner into the corner to end things.

For Djokovic, the loss cuts short his attempt at winning four straight Grand Slams spanning two calendar years, a feat he previously achieved by winning the French Open in 2016. The last calendar-year Grand Slam came all the way back in 1988, when Steffi Graf did it; a men’s player has not completed the Grand Slam since Rod Laver, in 1969.

Questions arose throughout the match over Djokovic’s constant banter with the chair umpire. “Well done, well done man. You’ve earned yourself a name,” the Serbian barked after being warned for a time delay in the fourth set. Serena Williams was penalized a critical game in the US Open final last year under similar circumstances; afterward, she suggested that male players routinely get a pass for such behavior. Djokovic’s treatment here will do nothing to dissuade the notion of a double standard.

Thiem will have 24 hours to rest before he faces Nadal in a quest to win his first Grand Slam. “If someone reaches the final here, it is always against Rafa,” he told an interviewer after the match. “It was an amazing experience last year and he is favorite, but I’ll put everything into making it an amazing experience out here again.”

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