Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Novak Djokovic 'finding form on clay' after beating Dominic Thiem to reach Madrid Open final

World No 1 wins both tie breaks to reach his first final since winning the Australian Open in January

Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Dominic Thiem to reach the Madrid Open final. EPA
Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Dominic Thiem to reach the Madrid Open final. EPA

Novak Djokovic insisted that he is "still finding my form on clay" after beating Dominic Thiem 7-6, 7-6 on Saturday to reach the Madrid Open final.

Djokovic has fallen below his remarkably high standards since winning the Australian Open in January for his third successive grand slam title.

However, his semi-final win over world No 5 Thiem - the recently-crowned Barcelona Open champion - was a statement that suggested the world No 1 is close to finding top form once again.

“Dominic is one of the best tennis players in the world at this moment, especially on this surface, so this was a very big win for me,” Djokovic said.

“I thought he was the favorite coming into this match because of his win in Barcelona and the way he played winning against Roger [Federer] yesterday.”

The Madrid crowd were treated to two exhilirating sets of baseline tennis, as Djokovic found his best in both tie-breaks, delivering on the clutch points liker he do often does.

In those pressure moments, Thiem, who saved two match points in beating Federer in the quarter-finals, was unable to respond, even if he ran the top seed close enough to suggest he will be a serious contender again at the French Open, where he was runner-up to Nadal last year.

Since taking a month off after winning the Australian Open, Djokovic has stuttered, enduring early exits in Indian Wells, Miami and then Monte Carlo.

But Thiem met the 31-year-old close to his best, delivering a timely reminder of why he has won the last three Grand Slam titles and will hold all four concurrently by winning his 16th at the French Open.

Djokovic conceded an early break when a short forehand hit the tape but struck back for 3-3, matching a Thiem drop-shot in kind before his opponent patted wide.

Thiem had a break point at 4-4 but it was Djokovic who stormed clear in the tie-break, winning the point of the match with, perhaps, the shot of the tournament.

Scrambling left into his backhand corner, Djokovic not only retrieved Thiem's approach but turned it into a brilliant lob that landed on the opposite baseline.

Disorientated, Thiem hit long to fall 4-1 behind and then again at 6-2 to hand Djokovic the set.

Thiem came again early in the second and broke in the sixth game, only to fail again to consolidate, Djokovic responding immediately for 3-3.

There was nothing in it until Thiem blinked again at 5-5 but this time Djokovic wavered, broken when serving for the match after coughing up a double fault.

Djokovic recovered his nerve in the tie-break, however, earning two match points and converting the first, when a tired Thiem framed a final backhand long.

“I was still kind of trying to find my best game on clay,” Djokovic said, offering an ominous warning to his rivals. “These are exactly the matches that I need. I’m very, very pleased with this win.”

Thiem paid tribute to Djokovic after the match and said he was not surprised to see the 15-time grand slam champion raise his level as Roland Garros approaches.

"If Djokovic played like this in previous tournaments he wouldn’t had those early losses," the Austrian said. "But he always play better when we get closer to grand slams."

Updated: May 11, 2019 09:44 PM

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