French Open 2016 Men's Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Thiem Preview, Predictions

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2016

French Open 2016 Men's Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Thiem Preview, Predictions

0 of 7

    Novak Djokovic hits a forehand during the quarterfinals of the 2016 French Open.
    Novak Djokovic hits a forehand during the quarterfinals of the 2016 French Open.Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

    In a contest between the current No. 1 and a potential future No. 1, Novak Djokovic takes on Dominic Thiem in the semifinals of the 2016 French Open.

    Djokovic has been here before, yet he's still trying to win his first French Open title.

    Thiem, 22, is playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal. He is the youngest player to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros since Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009. The win will elevate the Austrian to the Top 10 for the first time in his career. 

    Who will emerge? Will we see a first-time Grand Slam finalist, or will a future Hall of Famer be one step closer to his first French Open title? Either way, history is still on course in the semifinal matchup. 

Who Has the Historic Edge?

1 of 7

    Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic shake hands after their match at the 2016 Miami Open.
    Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic shake hands after their match at the 2016 Miami Open.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Djokovic leads the head-to-head 2-0 against Thiem. Both matches were on hard courts, and the Serb won 6-3, 6-4 each time.

    In their last match, at the 2016 Miami Open, Djokovic fended off 14 break points. Although he took that match in straight sets, the Austrian had to be encouraged by the number of break-point opportunities he had against the world No. 1. He should take that confidence into their next meeting.

How Djokovic Has Looked so Far at the French Open

2 of 7

    Novak Djokovic hits a backhand during the 2016 French Open.
    Novak Djokovic hits a backhand during the 2016 French Open.Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

    Djokovic has dropped just one set during this run at Roland Garros. Under a light mist and an intermittent drizzle, last year's French Open runner-up defeated Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.

    Despite solid play from Berdych, Djokovic never allowed the Czech veteran any significant openings in the match. Every time the 30-year-old seemed to gain ground, the Serb hit a winner to reclaim momentum. 

    Djokovic was 6-8 on break points, and Berdych was 2-6. The 29-year-old simply played the big points better. 

    Roberto Bautista Agut provided the toughest challenge for Djokovic in the fourth round. Under heavy conditions due to torrential rain, the Spaniard took the first set 6-3. Perhaps worried about the weather, the world No. 1 seemed a bit impatient in the first set.

    He steadied himself and finished off the match, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5. 

    When not bothered by rain delays, it's been a professional and routine tournament for Djokovic so far.

How Thiem Has Looked so Far at the French Open

3 of 7

    Dominic Thiem serves during his quarterfinals match at the 2016 French Open.
    Dominic Thiem serves during his quarterfinals match at the 2016 French Open.Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Thiem dropped the first set but bounced back to defeat David Goffin 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. After several changes in momentum, the young Austrian took control of the match in the fourth set. 

    Goffin wasn't the first challenge Thiem faced from an up-and-coming player. He had to fight off teen sensation Alexander Zverev in the third round. After losing a tight first set in a tiebreaker, the Austrian relied on his experience to seize control of the match and win 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. 

    As passed on by the ATP World Tour staff, Thiem said after his victory over the German: "I knew already before the match that it was going to be a very tough one against such a great player like Sascha (Zverev). I think the little difference today was probably the three years' age difference."

The Biggest X-Factors

4 of 7

    Fans cover up to endure rainy weather at Roland Garros at the 2016 French Open.
    Fans cover up to endure rainy weather at Roland Garros at the 2016 French Open.Michel Euler/Associated Press/Associated Press

    The rain has been a huge factor, and both men have weathered the storm. However, Djokovic's experience gives him an edge over Thiem if the elements continue to batter Roland Garros. 

    Against Berdych, the Serb used drop shots to exploit Berdych's movement. After the match, Djokovic told reporters (via RolandGarros.com): "Especially in these conditions it's good to have this shot in your game. ... When the court is wet, when the conditions are slow, of course it does work better than when it's not."

    Nerves and expectations will also play a part in this match. How loose or tight will Thiem be? How will Djokovic handle being the overwhelming favorite? 

    Both men have different levels of pressure to endure. Who handles it best will determine the winner. 

Djokovic Will Win If...

5 of 7

    Novak Djokovic hits a backhand during his quarterfinals match at the 2016 French Open.
    Novak Djokovic hits a backhand during his quarterfinals match at the 2016 French Open.MIGUEL MEDINA/Getty Images

    Djokovic is the more experienced and better overall player. He simply needs to play his game, stay aggressive and impose his will on the younger, less experienced Thiem.

    The Serb must avoid the type of letdown he had in the first set against Bautista Agut. Thiem may be young, but he's a heady player who is more likely to capitalize on such opportunities. 

Thiem Will Win If...

6 of 7

    Dominic Thiem roars during a match at the 2016 French Open.
    Dominic Thiem roars during a match at the 2016 French Open.Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    Thiem has the type of game that can cause Djokovic problems. At 6'1", the Austrian looks and plays like the prototypical Grand Slam champion of recent years. 

    He proved that he can hang with Djokovic in their last match in Miami. Thiem's best chance to win will be to avoid getting into the patterns that the Serb can easily decipher. Instead, he must mix it up.

    A strong baseliner, Thiem has to keep the ball deep and take away angles that Djokovic loves. 

    If Thiem has any chance to win, he must get a high percentage of first serves in to keep scoreboard pressure on the world No. 1, who has far more to lose.

Prediction

7 of 7

    Novak Djokovic hits a backhand during the 2016 French Open.
    Novak Djokovic hits a backhand during the 2016 French Open.Michel Euler/Associated Press

    Thiem is talented and someday may win two, three or even four French Open titles. But it won't be this year.

    Djokovic is a man on a mission. While other big names have withdrawn or dropped by the wayside, the 29-year-old has remained calm during this French Open.

    It's that calm demeanor, his experience and superior game that will take him into another French Open final.