Dominic Thiem knows he’s up against it at Roland Garros. If he gets through World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Friday for a place in the final for the second successive year, he’ll play 11-time champion Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.
He has a shot, as one of the most consistent clay-court performers of the past four years, but only a slim one if history is anything to go by. Because on 10 of the 11 occasions that the Big Three have all reached the semi-finals of the same Grand Slam championship, one of them has lifted the trophy.
Thiem, who swept past Karen Khachanov 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 at Roland Garros on Thursday afternoon, said, “It’s incredibly difficult to win a Grand Slam, especially for us players who haven’t won one yet. Because if everything goes quite normal, we have to beat two players with 15 or more Grand Slams.
“But I will step on the court tomorrow, try everything, of course, [and] give everything. I hope it’s going to be positive in the end, but the challenge is huge. Novak is in very good shape again, probably playing his best tennis of his life. I’m in the semi-finals with maybe the three best players of all time, so everybody can see how tough the way it is for me.”
The exception to Big Three dominance, when all three were competing in a major semi-final, came at the 2009 US Open, when Juan Martin del Potro recorded back-to-back wins over Nadal in the semi-finals and Federer in a five-set final.
Factor in that Nadal has history on his side at Roland Garros, where he has lifted La Coupe des Mousquetaires on 11 occasions and compiled a 91-2 record, and the challenge for not only Thiem, but Djokovic and Federer becomes even tougher. The Spaniard has a perfect 22-0 record on Parisian clay when he has reached the semi-finals and in 2007-08, 2011-12, when Djokovic and Federer also competed in the Roland Garros semi-finals, Nadal came out victorious each time in the final.
Nadal also won the 2010 US Open crown, when Djokovic and Federer featured in the semi-finals. By the same parameters, Djokovic has lifted three majors at the Australian Open (2008 and 2012) and at the US Open (2011), while Federer captured two crowns, his fifth straight titles at both 2007 Wimbledon and at the 2008 US Open.
Big Three Grand Slam Titles When All Reach The SFs
Incredibly, Friday’s semi-finals will not only feature the top four seeds for the first time since the 2012 Australian Open (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Andy Murray), but the Paris major’s finale will feature Djokovic, Nadal and Federer together in the final four of a Grand Slam championship for the first time since 2012 Roland Garros.
That year, Nadal won the 11th of his 17 major championship titles by beating Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 in the Spaniard’s seventh Roland Garros final. Federer had lost to Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 in the semi-finals two days earlier.
“The surface doesn’t matter against them,” said Thiem. “All of them have won all four [Grand] Slams, so… they are so tough on any of the surfaces. They are the only three [in the history of tennis] with 15-plus Grand Slams [singles trophies]. That shows it all.
“I’m now in the semis here for the fourth time, and I know now how tough it is to get here, to get that deep in a tournament. And, I mean, these three, they have been doing it [for] 10, 15 years, almost at any Grand Slam. So that shows what their level is… they are absolutely amazing.”
“But on the other hand, I know all three of them. I have played many, many times against all of them. I feel really good in their company. But I’m trying everything to beat them.”
At this year’s Roland Garros, Nadal will play Federer for the 39th time in their legendary FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry on Friday, in the first match on Court Philippe-Chatrier, while Djokovic takes a 6-2 advantage over Thiem into their semi-final. Last month, Djokovic beat Thiem 7-6(2), 7-6(4) in the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals.
– Research courtesy of Greg Sharko and Joshua Rey