PARIS • Dominic Thiem had reason to celebrate yesterday, after weathering yet another rain delay to defeat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Day 2 of their rain-halted semi-final at Roland Garros.
Now comes the tough part: Taking on 11-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal on just one day's rest for what would be his first Grand Slam title.
The Austrian displayed fierce resolve in defeating the Serb 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 on the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier, where Djokovic hoisted the 2016 French Open trophy in one of the rare years that Nadal had not done so since his first triumph in 2005.
With the victory, Thiem set up a reprise of last year's French Open final, in which he was thrashed by Nadal in straight sets.
This time round, though, he is ready to unleash himself.
"If someone reaches the final here, it is always against Rafa. It was an amazing experience last year and I'll put everything into making it an amazing experience out here again," said the 25-year-old, who has defeated 17-time Grand Slam champion Nadal four times on clay in his career.
"He'll be the favourite as it's his 12th final, but I'm really looking forward to letting everything out on the court tomorrow.
"I'm also here in the semi-finals with three of the best players (Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer) of all time, so to beat one of them is amazing. It was unbelievable today for me."
Thiem and Nadal have met 11 times on clay, with the Spaniard holding a 7-4 advantage. But they are 2-2 on the surface over the past two years, and Thiem won their most recent clash, in April, in straight sets at Barcelona.
Though Djokovic holds a 28-26 career advantage over Nadal, Thiem may pose the bigger challenge on clay, and he has a knack of doing it the hard way like yesterday.
The fourth seed squandered two match points before he finally sealed his place in the final, with the weather not being in the friendliest of conditions on both days.
He was leading 3-1 in the third set on Friday when the match was interrupted by rain and then surprisingly abandoned for the day.
On the resumption yesterday, Djokovic broke back in the third game of the day. But he dropped serve and lost his cool in a dramatic 12th game of the set to allow Thiem to move to within a set of the final.
The Serb recovered to take the fourth set but slipped 4-1 down in the decider and saved a point to avoid trailing 5-1 before another hour-long rain break.
Thiem crumbled when serving for the match at 5-3, wasting two match points, but he got another opportunity when Djokovic served at 5-6 and finished the job with a sublime forehand winner.
Should he beat Nadal today, Thiem will become only Austria's second Grand Slam men's champion after Thomas Muster won in Paris in 1995.
For Djokovic, his dream of becoming the second man to hold all Grand Slam titles at the same time twice, a feat achieved only by Rod Laver, is now crushed.
"Obviously, when you're playing in hurricane-like conditions it's hard to play your best," said the 32-year-old.
"It's really just kind of surviving in these kind of conditions and trying to hold your serve and play, you know, one ball more than your opponent in the court.
"I don't want to point out some reasons or find excuses for this loss. I mean, he took it, he won it, and well done to him."
WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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