French Open 2016: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray chase history at Rolland Garros
Paris, June 3: Novak Djokovic faces young gun Dominic Thiem in the French Open semi-finals Friday while Andy Murray tackles defending champion Stan Wawrinka looking to become the first British man in the final for 79 years.
World number one Djokovic, a three-time runner-up, is still seeking a maiden Roland Garros crown to secure a career Grand Slam.
The 29-year-old top seed, who already holds the Wimbledon, US and Australian Open titles, will start as overwhelming favourite.
He has defeated Thiem in straight sets in their only two career meetings.
Djokovic will be playing in his 30th Grand Slam semi-final and eighth in Paris.
Austrian 13th seed Thiem is into his first at the majors as he finally realises the potential which was spotted during his days when he used to lift tree-trunks to beef up his physique.
“I’m sure he’s very motivated to show himself and others that he deserves to be at the top and compete for the biggest titles,” said Djokovic.
“He plays with a lot of speed, with a lot of power. I’m sure he’s going to give it all in semis. But I have something to fight for, as well.”
Thiem is one of a generation of players long-tipped to succeed the likes ofDjokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic won the first of his 11 majors at Australia in 2008 as a 20-year-old. Thiem, 22, has yet to make the breakthrough to a final at the Slams.
But he is one of the in-form players in 2016 with his 41 match wins second only to Djokovic‘s 42.
He also has a season-best 25 wins on clay, a run which included a victory over Federer in Rome and the title in Nice.
“It’s going to be unbelievably tough against Novak,” said Thiem.
“He’s on a different level than all the other players, but still I’m in good shape and the match starts at 0-0.”
Murray also has history on his mind as he aims to be the first British man since Bunny Austin in 1937 to reach the final.
Weight of expectations
The world number two is in the habit of shrugging off the weight of expectations with his 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon triumphs.
“I think at this stage of my career to do things that I have never done before is nice,” said three-time semi-finalist Murray who is two matches away from becoming the first British man to win in Paris since Fred Perry in 1935.
Murray’s Paris campaign was almost scuppered at the first hurdle when he had to fight back from two sets down to defeat 37-year-old Radek Stepanek.
He then needed another five sets to beat French wildcard Mathias Bourgue, the world 164.
Since then, Murray has been relatively untroubled, seeing off big-servers Ivo Karlovic and John Isner in straight sets before defeating home hope Richard Gasquet from a set down.
He has even seen the torrential rain act in his favour.
Having played his last-16 match against Isner on Sunday, he didn’t return to the courts until Wednesday to face Gasquet before enjoying a free Thursday.
In comparison, Djokovic played his last-16 round over two days on Tuesday and Wednesday and beat Tomas Berdych in his delayed quarter-final on Thursday.
Murray won’t under-estimate Wawrinka who stunned Djokovic in last year’s final.
The 31-year-old Swiss is the oldest semi-finalist in Paris since Jimmy Connors in 1985.
Murray leads their head-to-head 8-7 but Wawrinka has won their last three meetings.
The third seed has also won both their tour claycourt meetings — in Rome in 2008 and Monte Carlo in 2013.
However, Wawrinka insists that Murray is the favourite, even claiming that the Scot is in a different class despite both men having claimed two Grand Slam titles apiece.
“If you were to compare our two careers he’s well ahead of me given all the titles, the finals, number two in the world, and he has so many Masters 1000, as well,” said Wawrinka who was also the 2014 Australian Open champion.