FUMING Novak Djokovic clashed with the umpire as his hopes of achieving the ‘Novak Slam’ were blown off course by Dominic Thiem at the relay-delayed, wind-affected French Open.
The world No.1 suffered his first defeat at major level for more than a year as he was beaten 6-2 3-6 7-5 5-7 7-5 by the Austrian star in a classic semi-final that took almost 24 hours to complete.
After losing the third set to Thiem, and being warned for a time violation, the irate Serb argued with the umpire, asking him not to call out the score so early.
Djokovic complained again at the change of ends, saying: “Well done man. You made yourself a name. You made yourself recognisable now. You’ll get all the credit after this.”
He then added: “Have you ever played tennis? So you know how it is in this situation at 5-6, long point, crowd still clapping?”
The pair clashed again when the umpire ruled a ball in to give Thiem a break point at 4-1 up in the fifth set.
Incredibly the net came into place several times during this match, with Thiem usually getting the benefit of the lucky bounce of the ball.
Following his victories at Wimbledon, Flushing Meadows and Melbourne, Djokovic had been on a historic mission at Roland Garros to place all four major trophies on his mantelpiece at the same time – and, unprecedentedly for the Open era, to achieve it for the second time in his career.
Yet Djokovic probably could not believe that Thiem, who had lost six of their previous eight encounters, would raise his game to such a considerable level over the course of four sapping hours. The 25-year-old will now play Spaniard Rafa Nadal in the final for the second successive year.
This outstanding victory should give him confidence he could topple Nadal but the lack of recovery time might prove to be his undoing.
The semi-final had already courted controversy when it was postponed on Friday after four games in the third set because of the blustery conditions and threat of rain hitting Paris.
As it transpired, there was an hour or so of play available last night in which they could have continued this clash.
The match continued today but the players went off court for more than an hour due to another rain shower.
Djokovic, 32, was struggling with the wind on court and was more than pleased to go back to his hotel, regroup and rest up.
But despite the match going to five sets and causing a delay to the women’s final, Thiem held on for the famous victory on his third match point – the first loss Djokovic has experienced in 27 consecutive Grand Slam matches.
Overall, the past 12 to 14 months have seen the resurgence of Djokovic and the sport of tennis is the better for it.
It was in early 2018 when Djokovic tumbled down the world rankings following elbow surgery and even considered quitting the game.
Though he has lost here, he will remain the favourite to win at SW19 next month and at the US Open in September.
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