June 6, 2019
Novak Djokovic will play Dominic Thiem for a place in the Roland Garros final.
Both dominated their quarter-finals and put those new kids on the block firmly in their place.
Alexander Zverev’s time will come in the Grand Slams. It’ll be the same for Karen Khachanov.
It’s not like their respective games are lacking much.
But you cannot beat experience and the confidence it brings.
Thiem has a lot of self-belief on this surface. He has beaten the biggest names, he has been to the business end at the French Open before.
Novak knows how to get the job done even better. Put him under pressure and he will hit back like a prize-fighter who senses the moment has come.
And that’s the thing about Djokovic. Just when you think he is in trouble at Grand Slams, he seems to find another gear, a more intense motivation.
Another level of mental strength. One his opponents cannot often match.
And so, dropping his serve at 4-4, Novak raised his game and hit stunning new heights to take that first set 7-5.
Sensing that Zverev’s confidence had been shattered by failing to serve out, Djokovic went for the jugular at the start of the second.
Before we knew it, the world number one was a break ahead and looking in total control of the match.
What did Zverev have left in the tank to turn this huge quarter-final around?
The German’s poor record in Grand Slams has weighed heavily upon him. Being the best of the next generation has also brought extra pressure.
So much so that only a few days ago he thanked the other big rising star, Stefanos Tsitsipas, for taking some of the pressure off him.
Now, with Novak imposing himself, we wondered whether Zverev would crumble once more, or get angry enough to hit back.
Unfortunately, there was no wounding reply. Djokovic broke again and was soon two sets ahead.
In the other match, Dominic Thiem was dishing out a similar reminder – that the youngsters aren’t quite there yet when it comes to the Slams.
Not that Thiem is particularly old himself at 25. It just feels like he has been around a long time already.
The Austrian does his best work on clay and showed big Karen Khachanov who was boss with two ruthless sets.
We waited to see whether the next generation could land some telling blows.
Even if they couldn’t win this time, maybe they could put some fresh doubts in the Grand Slam heads of their opponents for the future.
But Khachanov had no answer to Thiem’s all-round stroke play and Dominic, sensing more blood, brought the match to a rapid conclusion at 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.
As for Djokovic, he was still fired up enough to take some frustration out on his racquet early in the third set, as Zverev had done before him, perhaps with more justification.
And Novak wasn’t about to take his foot off the pedal when it mattered. Pretty soon he was roaring to victory against the man who had beaten him in the tour finals in London.
In the final analysis it was all too straightforward for the dominant Djokovic as he prevailed 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.