Djokovic’s French Open semifinal is 4th day in row on court


By Jerome Pugmire

AP Sports Writer

PARIS — It will be a fourth straight day on court for Novak Djokovic when he faces Dominic Thiem in the French Open semifinals Friday.

At least he gets a change of scenery, because the top-seeded Serb plays on neighboring Court Suzanne Lenglen rather than Court Philippe Chatrier, the main one at Roland Garros.

With all the rain playing havoc with the schedule this week, organizers have adjusted by putting men’s and women’s semifinals on the same day.

Tournament director Guy Forget said it was a tough decision to put Djokovic on Lenglen, but that organizers wanted all the semis played simultaneously so the finalists get equal recovery time.

Asked whether playing so many days in a row could be a problem for Djokovic, three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten gave a light-hearted response.

“For him, not that much. For me, (it) would be much more difficult,” Kuerten said. “He is like Superman.”

The fact Roland Garros does not have a roof has made the incessant rainfall of Monday and Tuesday a lingering talking point.

“I’m sure that they already heard it a million times, that we need a roof, that we need lights,” Djokovic said. “They are trying to do whatever they can do within the regulations, and I’m just hoping that for the sake of this tournament and all the players that we are going to have that roof.”

Still, it will take more than rain to extinguish Djokovic’s burning ambition to complete a career Grand Slam, and to become the first man to win four consecutive majors since Rod Laver won all four in 1969.

Djokovic has won 11 Grand Slam titles — three fewer than Rafael Nadal and six behind all-time leader Roger Federer.

There was some drizzle during Thursday’s quarterfinals, but only one brief delay as Djokovic swept aside No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 as if he were brushing water off the court with a broom.

It was his 24th win in 26 matches against the big-hitting Czech. Djokovic was rarely troubled, tormenting his less mobile opponent with drop shots as he reached the French Open semis for a record sixth consecutive year.

But he almost made life very complicated for himself, when he threw his racket down in frustration and it almost hit a line umpire.

He could have faced disqualification.

“It was just some unfortunate bounce,” Djokovic said when later asked about the incident. “I apologized.”

This is Djokovic’s 30th appearance in a major semifinal. Only Federer, with 39, and Jimmy Connors, with 31, have participated in more in the Open era.

Thiem is through to his first.

“It’s a little bit unreal,” he said.

Forget called the 22-year-old Thiem “possibly the champion of tomorrow, the player many see as the possible successor” to the big four of Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray.

“We’re salivating a bit about a match like this,” Forget said. “How will he handle the pressure?”

Not very well at times during his 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-1 win against David Goffin of Belgium.

The No. 12-seeded Goffin had set point in the tiebreaker and led Thiem 4-2 in the third set before Thiem reeled off nine straight games to lead 5-0 in the fourth.

“In the second set, I didn’t think that I’m going to win this match because he was just on top of me,” Thiem said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Djokovic leads Thiem 2-0 in their head-to-head matches — both on hard courts — but he expects the No. 13-seeded Austrian to rise to the occasion.

“I’m sure he’s very motivated to show himself and others that he deserves to be at the top,” Djokovic said.

Friday’s other semifinal pits No. 2-seeded Murray, a losing semifinalist to Djokovic last year, against defending champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland.

Both are two-time Grand Slam champions.

Murray is seeking to become the first British man to reach the Roland Garros final since Bunny Austin in 1937 and he leads the No. 3-seeded Wawrinka 8-7 overall.

But Murray has lost their past three matches and has never beaten him on clay.

“He’s been at the top of the game now for a number of years and is still improving,” Murray said. “He plays well on that court, so I’ll have to play great tennis to beat him.”

By Jerome Pugmire

AP Sports Writer

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