French Open 2016, Day 12: Djokovic, Murray complete semi-finals line-up; Serena survives

Djokovic will be playing in his 30th Grand Slam semi-final and eighth in Paris.

AFP| Updated: Jun 03, 2016, 01:01 AM IST
French Open 2016, Day 12: Djokovic, Murray complete semi-finals line-up; Serena survives

Paris: 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 of Djokovic, 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.

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.

In the women's section, Serena Williams moved to within two matches of winning a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win over Kazakhstan`s Yulia Putintseva in the French Open quarter-finals on Thursday.

Her reward is a semi-final matchup on Friday against another unseeded player, Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, who defeated Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-2

It was a peculiar performance from the top seed and defending champion, who looked unrecognisable for the first hour of a match played in cold, damp conditions on the Roland Garros centre court.

Defeat was staring the out-of-sorts American in the face at a set and a break down, but in the nick of time the champion managed to rekindle the fires that fuel her game.

Back-to-back service breaks allowed her to turn the match on its head and avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets in French Open history.

Because of the poor weather conditions that have beset Roland Garros this week, Williams will play her third match in three days in Friday`s semis against Bertens.

A win there would qualify her for Saturday`s final and the chance of matching Steffi Graf`s modern-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles set in Paris in 1999.

"She played unbelievable and I did not think I was going to win that in the second set, but somehow I did," Williams said.

The match got off to a hesitant start with the players coming off during the third game as light rain started to fall.

They were back again on a sparsely-filled Court Philippe Chatrier 10 minutes later and there were looks of surprise as Putintseva, playing in her first Grand Slam quarter-final, broke serve and then held her own to love to lead 3-1.

Williams though quickly pulled out of her lethargic start to break and level at 3-3.

The 34-year-old American, bidding to become the oldest ever female champion at Roland Garros, tried to apply more pressure on her 21-year-old opponent, but there were too many unforced errors in her game.

She paid the price for a sloppy 11th game with Putintseva grabbing the chance to pull off a second break and then serving out to love for the set.

Things went from bad to worse for Williams as she dropped serve to love to start the second set, spraying her shots long and wide.

Her case was starting to look forlorn, but some semblence of normality started to return to her game and back-to-back breaks hauled her 4-1 ahead.

Another scrappy service game from the American allowed Putintseva to pull back level at 4-4 and the defending champion had to stave off two break points in the next game.

That boosted Williams and she profited from a double fault from her Russian-born opponent to take the second set 6-4 minutes later.

The top seed finally got her nose in front with a break of serve to lead 2-0 in the decider and from there she used her power and experience to complete a nervy win.

She finished with a total of 43 unforced errors compared to just 16 for her opponent.

Her semi-final opponent, world number 58 Bertens, defeated Bacsinszky to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

It was her 12th successive victory having arrived in Paris from Nuremburg where she had won the title as a qualifier.

In an error-hit quarter-final, which featured 11 breaks of serve and played on a half-empty Suzanne Lenglen court, the 24-year-old Bertens is the first Dutchwoman to get to the last four since Marijke Schaar in 1971

"It`s unbelievable," said Bertens who started the Nuremburg event at 89 in the world but will now break the top 30 after her run in Paris.

"To be in the semis, it`s just crazy. To play Serena it will be a great match. She`s the number one in the world.

"I will just go out there and try and have fun and give it my all."