Thiem had beaten Djokovic in their last two meetings, both on clay, and he also came into this match on an eight-match winning streak, which included wins over Rafael Nadal in Barcelona and Roger Federer in Madrid.
Early on in both sets, it looked like Thiem might add the other member of the Big 3 to his winning streak, jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the first set and going up 4-2 in the second. But Djokovic clawed back both times, clinching the first set when Thiem hit a forehand return long, and closing out the match after two hours and 22 minutes when the Austrian badly mishit a backhand.
Thiem was the aggressor in the match: he had nine more winners, 26 to 17, but also 10 more unforced errors, 39 to 29. One stat that might stick with him was break-point conversions. Both players broke three times in the match, but Djokovic was 3 for 3 on break points with the Austrian 3 for 10.
In the end, Djokovic’s win over the world No. 5 was his first win over a Top 5 player on clay since beating Andy Murray in the 2016 French Open final (Murray was ranked No. 2 at the time).
“I played the best match of the clay-court season so far, for me,” Djokovic said afterward.
“Dominic had an amazing tournament in Barcelona and here he beat Roger yesterday in a thrilling match, so he was in form. It was also very tough conditions, very fast—the ball was bouncing very, very high. Thiem, next to Rafa, probably plays with the most spin and rotation on the tour right now—he hits a heavy ball, and it’s very difficult to stay close to the line and try to dictate the play.
“But I just managed to hold my nerves and play my best when it was most needed.”
Djokovic is now into his first final since capturing his 15th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, having fallen before the semifinals of all three tournaments he had played since. He lost in the third round of Indian Wells, the fourth round of Miami and the quarterfinals of Monte Carlo.
The Serb is now a win away from his 33rd career Masters 1000 title, which would tie him with Nadal for the all-time record. He’s won the Madrid Masters twice, in 2011 and 2016.
Awaiting him in the final will be either Nadal or Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will play their semifinal match at night. Djokovic leads Nadal in their head-to-head, 28-25, though the Spaniard leads the Serb on clay, 16-7. The Serb lost his only previous meeting against Tsitsipas on hardcourts, in Canada, last year.
“It’s going to be the finals—whoever I get to play, I have to be at my best,” Djokovic said.