A year ago, Djokovic became the first man in nearly a half-century to claim a fourth consecutive major championship and completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros. But his form has dipped considerably since then, and now he has gone four majors in a row without claiming a trophy.
Against Thiem, Djokovic was out of sorts in so many ways.
He wasted two set points in the opener. He wound up with nearly twice as many unforced errors, 35, as winners, 18. His backhand was particularly problematic.
Known for tremendous footwork and court coverage, the No. 2-seeded Serb even stumbled and tumbled to the court, his racket flying out of his hands, early in the second set. Djokovic was left on his knees, and soon he would be out of the tournament entirely.
How unlikely was this result? Djokovic entered the day having won all five previous matches — and 11 of 12 sets — against Thiem, including in the French Open semifinals a year ago.
“It’s amazing for me,” Thiem said. “To beat him for the first time in the quarters of the French Open is a dream.”
Plus, Djokovic had appeared in a record six consecutive semifinals in Paris.
Now the 23-year-old Thiem will face nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal next.
“You have to play the best guys round after round,” Thiem said. “It’s not getting easier on Friday.”
Thiem is a talented, up-and-coming player, to be sure, and he is the only man to beat Nadal in the Spaniard’s 23 matches on clay in 2017. That came in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open last month.
Earlier Wednesday, Nadal reached his record 10th French Open semifinal when No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain retired from their match early in the second set because of an injured abdominal muscle. Nadal led 6-2, 2-0 when Carreno Busta stopped.
Nadal has dropped only 22 games so far in the tournament, the fewest he has lost on the way to any of his 26 Grand Slam semifinal berths.