PARIS — In sharp contrast to a women’s singles draw filled with breakthroughs and breakdowns, the final four men in contention at the French Open are a perfectly predictable quartet.
In quarterfinal matches that were postponed from Wednesday because of rain, top-ranked Novak Djokovic and fourth-ranked Dominic Thiem won in straight sets on Thursday and joined No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer in the semifinals.
Although those four men have the best clay-court winning percentages of all active players, it is the first time since 2011 that the top four seeds have reached the semifinals at Roland Garros.
Even the so-called Big 3 of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who have taken turns dominating the tour this decade, have rarely synchronized their successes. Not since the 2012 French Open have they reached this stage at a Grand Slam tournament together.
Thiem, 25, who reached his first Grand Slam final last year in Paris and lost in straight sets to Nadal, is well aware of the daunting task at hand for him and others in his generation. He said he saw himself as “in the company with maybe the three best players of all time” in this semifinal slate.
“If everything goes quite normal, we have to beat two players with 15 or more Grand Slams,” Thiem said. “So I think everybody can imagine how difficult this is.”
With Thursday’s winners set to play again on Friday afternoon — weather permitting — Djokovic and Thiem were efficient and ruthless. Thiem finished first on Suzanne Lenglen Court, needing only 1 hour 47 minutes to dispatch 10th-seeded Karen Khachanov, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.
In a match that lasted 22 minutes longer, Djokovic beat fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev on Philippe Chatrier Court, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.
Djokovic and Thiem will play at Roland Garros for the third time in four years. Thiem won in the 2017 quarterfinals, and Djokovic prevailed in the 2016 semifinals on his way to winning all four Grand Slam titles in a row — a feat he seeks to repeat this weekend.
It will be their ninth meeting over all, but that’s still 30 matches short of the Federer-Nadal rivalry that will resume in the preceding semifinal.
For a short time on Thursday, it seemed as if Zverev, 22, might crash the top four’s party.
The world junior No. 1 when he was 16, Zverev made a breakout run to the semifinals in his hometown tournament in Hamburg, Germany, at 17. After that, headlines in Germany declared him “the next Boris Becker.”
But while Becker won his first Wimbledon title at that age, Zverev has been unable to unwrap his gifts on the sport’s biggest occasions.
His consistently strong results outside of the majors have kept his ranking high, but it wasn’t until this week, in the fourth round against the ninth-seeded Fabio Fognini, that Zverev notched his first top-25 win at a major.
After a disappointing start to this season, Zverev has seemed to play without the usual weight of expectations at this tournament, where he reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event for only the second time. His burden-free ball striking was on display at the onset against Djokovic, the first higher-ranked opponent he had played at a major in nearly three years.
Zverev was able to land his punches in the opening games, earning break-point chances in the third and fifth games before capitalizing in the ninth for a 5-4 lead. From there, however, Djokovic dominated, winning 15 of the remaining 19 games.
“Really thought that the first set should have gone my way,” Zverev said. “Then played three really bad games from there on. Then once he’s in control, he’s very tough to beat. He’s world No. 1 for a reason.”
When he failed to convert two break points in the opening game of the third set, Zverev spiked the racket from his hands. After a badly netted volley in the sixth game of the third set put him down by 2-4, Zverev crouched his long legs low in resignation and stared toward his support team.
As the match grew less competitive, the crowd grumbled with apparent dissatisfaction. Zverev contended there was little he could have done to turn it around.
“Novak, once he gets up on you, he doesn’t let go,” he said. “What he does on a tennis court, when he’s up in the score, he’s unplayable.”
It’s a familiar refrain from an opponent vanquished by these semifinalists. Djokovic, a fixture in late rounds of Grand Slam tournament, said he saw the value of the unexpected semifinalists in the women’s draw.
“I think it’s really great for the sport to see new faces,” he said. “I’m sure that people are also excited and looking forward to see some new champions of Grand Slams and big tournaments on the men’s side, as well.”
“Hopefully that will come after I finish my career,” he added, laughing.