Djokovic defeats Thiem to reach Madrid final
Novak Djokovic reached his first final since the Australian Open as he overcame Dominic Thiem in two tie-breaks to win 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (7-4) at the Madrid Open.
The 31-year-old had lost his previous two meetings to Thiem on clay but provided a timely reminder of his class on the surface ahead of the French Open, which begins later this month, by reaching a 48th ATP Masters 1000 final.
Djokovic went a break down in both sets but Thiem, who came from behind to beat Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, was pegged back on each occasion and then wilted under the pressure of the breakers.
Australian Open champion Djokovic will meet either Rafael Nadal, in what would be a repeat of January's final in Melbourne, or Stefanos Tsitsipas in the showpiece.
Djokovic was handed a walkover to the last four because quarter-final opponent Marin Cilic had food poisoning and that might have explained his rusty, error-laden start as Thiem claimed an early advantage.
The world number one hit back, though, and then staved off two break points at 4-4 before proving equal to a series of drop shots in the tie-break as Thiem's curious approach helped Djokovic clinch the opener.
Thiem failed to seize break-point opportunities in Djokovic's opening two service games of the second set but he finally made the breakthrough to go 4-2 up with a cross-court forehand winner at the end of another lengthy rally.
Yet Djokovic broke straight back when the Austrian somehow failed to clear the net with a backhand, giving his opponent the chance to serve for the match.
However, Djokovic uncharacteristically lost his nerve, double-faulting to force another breaker, where he eventually prevailed to reach his third final in the Spanish capital.