By Ossian Shine
PARIS (Reuters) – Despite sending mighty serves crashing down from a great height, world number five Alexander Zverev could offer only momentary resistance to Novak Djokovic on Thursday, as the top seed barged into the French Open semi-finals in straight sets.
The 6ft 6ins (1.98m) tall German had served for the opening set at 5-4 before Djokovic simply clicked it up a notch to steal that set 7-5 before romping through the next two 6-2 6-2.
“He was serving very well, it was a big challenge for me to find the right returning position,” Djokovic smiled on court.
“I was 4-5 down, then I played five or six games perfectly, hitting clean balls. It was very windy but it felt good to play (after Wednesday’s washout).”
Zverev may have felt similarly pleased to get out on court.
For the first stages of the match in any case.
“I really thought that the first set should have gone my way,” he ruefully reflected.
“And then played three really bad games from there on. You know, once he’s in control, he’s very tough to beat. He’s world number one for a reason. I hoped more from this match, really. But once the first set slipped away, it was kind of difficult to play him.
“At least I’m not injured this year, so I can prepare for the grass and hopefully do well there.”
So while Zverev switches his focus to grass, it is business as usual for Djokovic, who hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match since a last-eight loss here last year.
That defeat on a cold, darkening evening by Marco Cecchinato proved only a prelude to winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and January’s Australian Open.
That put Djokovic on 15 Grand Slam singles crowns, within touching distance of Rafa Nadal’s 17 and closing fast on Roger Federer’s male record of 20.
Inevitably, the lure of posterity has begun to play a bigger part in his thinking.
“The presence of history-making is stronger than ever right now in my career,” Djokovic told reporters.
“I think the longer I play or the further I go, I guess, in my career, the sense of history-making is only getting stronger.
“That’s one of the greatest motivations I have, obviously. I think there is no better way to make history in the sport than to win slams and play your best in the biggest events.”
The victory over Zverev was a 26th consecutive one in Grand Slams, and it will take a mammoth effort to end that run.
The man tasked next with stopping him is Austrian Dominic Thiem who, at world number four, is ranked one place higher than Zverev. Thiem was himself ruthless, dispatching Russian Karen Khachanov 6-2 6-4 6-2.
Familiar faces occupy the bottom half of the draw with Federer due to face Nadal in the first semi-final.
There is certainly an odd man out, as Thiem is yet to win a Grand Slam and the other three own 52 between them.
But Djokovic is taking nothing for granted.
“Dominic is deservedly where he is, one of the top four guys, especially on clay,” he said.
“That’s where he’s playing his best tennis. He’s got that tremendous power in his game, especially with forehand and serve. Seems like his relationship with (coach Nicolas) Massu has helped him a lot, also mentally, I think, in big matches.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)