Serena Williams escapes, Novak Djokovic 'lucky' at French Open 'circus'

    Story highlights

    • Serena Williams tested by qualifier
    • Djokovic's racket almost hits official
    • Berdych complains of "circus" in rain
    • Two first-time semifinalists in Paris

    Paris (CNN)There was more rain -- and more controversy -- at the French Open on Thursday.

    Tomas Berdych complained the tournament was "one big circus," while his opponent Novak Djokovic narrowly avoided disqualification, and Serena Williams battled back to escape an embarrassing exit on another interrupted day's play in Paris.
      May was officially the second wettest month in the city's history, trailing only July 2001, and June is bringing similar weather.
      Many players have been wishing Roland Garros had a roof -- or at least a big tent, though that wasn't what Berdych was referring to during his straight-sets quarterfinal defeat against Djokovic.
      The Czech expressed his frustration when the players were briefly forced off due to rain at 3-3, telling supervisor Wayne McKewen: "This is an absolute circus. One big circus."
      He felt the conditions had been the same throughout the match, so wondered why they departed at that stage. Earlier this week, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska complained bitterly after being made to play in the rain.
      Roland Garros clay: A layered cake - with red frosting
      Roland Garros clay: A layered cake - with red frosting

        JUST WATCHED

        Roland Garros clay: A layered cake - with red frosting

      MUST WATCH

      Roland Garros clay: A layered cake - with red frosting 02:25
      Djokovic, meanwhile, admitted he was "lucky" to still be on the court and continuing his bid to win the only grand slam missing from his collection.
      Bouncing his racket in frustration at 0-1 in the same set, it spun backwards near the court's backboard and the linesperson reacted quickly to move out of the way. If he hadn't, Djokovic would have faced disqualification.
      Asked if he realized how close he came to striking the official, the Serb replied: "It's obvious what I tried to do. I don't understand your question. I threw a racket on the ground and it slipped and almost hit the line umpire. I was lucky there.
      "I'm just not thinking about those kinds of situations," he later added.
      "I am aware that I have been lucky, and I apologized to people that have been in this particular situation with me and that could have been hurt by my racket. But it was never the intention. It was just some unfortunate bounce, but fortunate ending of that scenario."
      Defending champion Williams also overcame the dreadful spring weather and her spirited opponent Yulia Putintseva 5-7 6-4 6-1 to move within two matches of becoming the joint winningest player in grand slams in the Open Era.
      Serena Williams' French Open defense plan
      spc open court the defenders_00013330

        JUST WATCHED

        Serena Williams' French Open defense plan

      MUST WATCH

      Serena Williams' French Open defense plan 02:33
      Showers, at times heavy, pelted the City of Lights and temperatures struggled to reach 16C (61F). Factoring in a biting wind that had Williams draping herself in tournament towels and men's semifinalist Dominic Thiem donning a windbreaker during changeovers, not even the sight of the Eiffel Tower would have made this a pleasant day.
      Well, that's debatable.
      What isn't is the number of grand slams Williams possesses: 21. A win Saturday and the American ties Steffi Graf for top position in the Open Era.
      The 34-year-old remains the strong favorite, although her aura of invincibility waned in upset losses at the U.S. Open and Australian Open -- and might have lessened further Thursday. Something, perhaps, for her surprising semifinal opponent, 58th-ranked Kiki Bertens, to feed off.
      Bertens ousted last year's semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky 7-5 6-2 for a 12th straight win, including qualifying, in the past two weeks. Not since Betty Stove at the 1977 U.S. Open had a Dutch woman made a grand slam semifinal.
      In recent days, players who possess more power generally have had the advantage in the cool, heavy conditions, yet Williams' radar was off for much of the first two sets against her 5-foot-4-inch foe as the pair followed Djokovic on Philippe Chatrier court.
      A permanent scowl seems embedded on the face of the 60th-ranked Putintseva, a former junior No. 2 who spent significant time at the academy run by Williams' coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
      A rare audience with Richard Williams
      A rare audience with Richard Williams

        JUST WATCHED

        A rare audience with Richard Williams

      MUST WATCH

      A rare audience with Richard Williams 05:11
      She played smart, clean tennis in the first set of her debut grand slam quarterfinal, allowing Williams to implode -- 24 unforced errors sailed and thumped off the racket of the world No. 1, compared to two for Putintseva.
      When Williams led 4-1 in the second, their previous two encounters sprung to mind. On both occasions, Putintseva faded after a tight first set.
      Williams, however, relinquished the advantage and needed to save two break points at 4-4. On the second, given another chance thanks to a kind net cord, Putintseva sent a backhand long.
      Williams converted her second set point in the ensuing game courtesy of a Putintseva double fault. The third became a blowout, despite Putintseva forcing Williams to work hard in the final game.
      Breezing through the first four rounds, Williams' display was more like her path 12 months ago when she took part in five three-setters en route to the title.
      "Yulia played unbelievable," Williams told the crowd, using a white towel provided by interviewer Marion Bartoli as a blanket.
      "I honestly didn't think I was going to win that in the second set."
      Williams showed up for her mandatory post-match press conference about two hours late, which raised alarm bells. She said she wasn't injured but took only seven questions before the short briefing ended at her request.
      When Williams played Bertens in the first round at the U.S. Open last year, the latter led by a break, eventually succumbing 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.

      Controversy

      Djokovic reached his 30th grand slam semifinal by dispatching Berdych, setting up a last-four meeting with Thiem and once again enlisting the help of a ball-boy to salute the crowd in celebration.
      Baby-faced, yet a ball crusher, Thiem's comeback 4-6 7-6 (9-7) 6-4 6-1 win over pal David Goffin meant the 22-year-old became the third Austrian man to land in a grand slam semifinal after left-handers Thomas Muster and Jurgen Melzer.
      Djokovic, like Thiem, will be playing for a fourth straight day Friday thanks to the rain.
      Djokovic's mission to help Serbia's children
      Djokovic's mission to help Serbia's children

        JUST WATCHED

        Djokovic's mission to help Serbia's children

      MUST WATCH

      Djokovic's mission to help Serbia's children 07:31
      Prior to his racket-throwing incident, Djokovic played his best tennis of the tournament in winning seven straight games from 2-3 in the first to 3-0 in the second. He improved his record against the seventh seed to 24-2.
      Thiem, whose powerful game resembles that of defending champion Stan Wawrinka, will move into the top 10 next week.
      In their first grand slam quarterfinal, the second set proved pivotal between Thiem and the 13th-ranked Goffin.
      Goffin failed to serve out the second set and Thiem subsequently led 5-2 and 6-5 in the tiebreak. Goffin stormed back to 7-6 to earn a set point but Thiem won three straight points.
      "In the whole second set I really didn't think that I'm going to win this match, because he was just on top of me," Thiem told reporters. "He was the better player the first two sets maybe, or until the tiebreak."
      They played continuously, without stoppages, unlike both matches on center court.
      Thiem spent 45 more minutes on court than Djokovic and had a long week in Nice prior to the French, winning the title. He said, though, he was in "good shape."
      Djokovic leads their young rivalry 2-0 but Thiem manufactured 15 break points in two sets when they played at the Miami Open in March.
      "It's going to be unbelievably tough," Thiem said. "I think he's a little bit on a different level than all the other players, but I'm still in good shape and the match starts at 0-0."
      Wawrinka and second-seed Murray contest the other men's semifinal. Samantha Stosur, the 2010 French Open finalist, plays last year's Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza in the other women's semifinal.
      As for the rain, yes, some of it is expected Friday. It's been that kind of tournament.
      Dominic Thiem: Austria's rising star
      Dominic Thiem: Austria's rising star

        JUST WATCHED

        Dominic Thiem: Austria's rising star

      MUST WATCH

      Dominic Thiem: Austria's rising star 03:14