That’s a difficult question to answer, considering how dominant Djokovic was just a short time ago. In a five-and-a-year stretch from January 2011 to June 2016, Djokovic collected 11 major titles and lost only once before the semifinals of a Slam (2014 Australian Open, to Stan Wawrinka). Rafael Nadal, who will face Thiem in the semifinals, has never experienced such a sustained run of excellence. The closest he’s come was during a six-year run between the 2008 and 2014 French Opens, a stretch of Slams over which he won 11 majors—but also took three losses before the quarterfinals, two losses in quarterfinal matches, and missed three major tournaments altogether.
Roger Federer’s run from 2004-2007, which yielded 11 Grand Slam titles and is widely considered to be the apex of the Swiss’ career, is the only superior stretch in men’s tennis history. Forget Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg or Rod Laver—after Federer’s peak level of tennis mastery, the conversation then turns to Djokovic.
I feel that appreciation is necessary, even as we look at Djokovic’s loss to Thiem as something of an obituary. The 12-time Grand Slam champion isn't actually out of the picture, of course, but after his third-round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, his final-round loss to Stan Wawrinka at the U.S. Open, his second-round loss to Denis Istomin at the Australian Open and today's loss to Thiem, Djokovic's unquestioned reign atop the sport is clearly over.
On Wednesday, Djokovic hit just 18 winners to 35 unforced errors against Thiem, whose ratio was far superior—38 to 28—and whose rising confidence was palpable. He saved two set points in the first set, and after that pivotal sequence assumed control of the match. You could see it in Thiem’s torque-heavy strokes, both forehand and backhand, landing deep in the corners and traveling swiftly across the court, and you could see it in Djokovic’s body language, decipherable no matter your level of Serbian fluency.
"All and all, I think it was decided in the first set," Djokovic said in English after the match. "He deserved to win. He was definitely the better player on court today.